Spirit Grooves Blogs

Published on September 8, 2013

Featuring "Jazz Heroes" Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso

The big event for me each autumn is the annual Harvest Gathering of festival musicians up on the Bernard Farm in Lake City, Michigan. I believe this is something like the 12th year. It is run by my son-in-law Seth Bernard and my daughter May Erlewine Bernard. The thing about the Harvest Gathering is that it is all about musicians. In fact, it is purposely called a gathering rather than a festival because it was created for the Midwest festival musicians (tired after a season of festivals) who attend.

Originally the Gathering was attended only by musicians, professionals who came together to play for and with one another, and generally to let their hair down (so to speak) after the long festival season. It was not advertised. You had to be invited or otherwise have found out about it. Today, there is an entrance fee because perhaps a couple of thousand music lovers (who really want to listen) find their way there, and the admission is inexpensive compared to hearing this many bands (90 bands featuring these same performers) at the large festivals. At the Harvest Gathering you get to see and hear everyone all in one place. Even some of the festival owners and the press attend. Indeed, it is a gathering in the true sense of the word.

Years ago I showed up at my first Harvest Gathering at the invitation of my daughter May and now I would not miss it for anything. It is not like any festival I have ever been to. I am not a great music festival fan, because they can be just too much commercial this and that. However, with the Harvest Gathering it is the more like the spirit of the 1960s than any other event I have ever been to, aside from the Sixties themselves. I should warn you that a lot of hugging goes on at the gathering. New friendships are formed and all kinds of organic food and local produce are served. There is also pizza and grass-fed (Scottish Highland cattle raised right on the farm) burgers, and let's not forget the unforgettably-good breakfast burritos fashioned by Randy Buchler. The gathering fits all ages; kids and even geezers like me abound.

The Harvest Gathering goes on for three days (always the last weekend in September), has three stages, and this year over 90 bands will perform. There is music on all three stages all the time, and it goes late into the night. Drum circle take place far out in the night and campfires typically sing until first light. Most people bring tents and camp out; others stay in nearby motels. Aside from the music, there are also many workshops, discussions, and impromptu get-togethers. The farm sits on 181 lovely acres, with trails, and so on. You get the idea.

I have been able to help sponsor and bring several acts to the gathering over the years, acts not from this area, some of them famous like the Steve Coleman Group ( the great alto sax player), and another year we brought virtuoso violinist Kailin Yong. This year I am proud to introduce two very well-known jazz players Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso. I have known both Karl and Ingrid for many years and consider them good friends. Karl plays the Vibraphone, piano (and other instruments), and is a well-known arranger. Ingrid Sertso is an accomplished jazz vocalist.

When they are not touring Europe, Karl and Ingrid seldom leave the New York area where they live and perform. Intrigued by the Michigan Earthwork music scene, Karl and Ingrid are traveling to Michigan and will be featured at this year's Harvest Gathering, offering three events, a music performance, Karl Berger's well-known workshop "Music Mind" (geared for those with or without instruments), and a special opportunity for advanced players to meet and discuss music with Karl and Ingrid. They may also back up Lama Karma, who is coming from KTD Monastery ( his third appearance here). More on Lama Karma in another blog.

Here is some background information on Karl and Ingrid.

Together with Ornette Coleman (and Ingrid Sertso), Karl Berger founded the Creative Music Studio in Woodstock, New York in 1971. During the 1970s and 1980s, the Creative Music Studio was considered the premier study center for contemporary creative music, with players like Don Cherry, Anthony Braxton, Leo Smith, Foday Suso, Abdullah Ibrahim, Roscoe Mitchell, Joseph Jarman, Cecil Taylor, Jimmy Giuffre, Frederic Rzewski, Carly Bley, Dave Holland, Paulo Moura, Nana Vascncelos, Pauline Oliveros, Baidida Carroll, Trilok Gurtu, Steve Gorn, Ismet Siral, Jack Dejohnette, Fred Frith, Oliver Lake, Lee Konits, Leroy Jenkins, George Lewis, just to name a few.

During the 1990s Berger taught jazz music and ensemble playing as a professor in Frankfurt, Germany. In 2004-2005, he served as the Chairman of the Music Department of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

Most of Berger's output has been rather experimental. He has been active in Free Jazz circles, recording with Carla Bley, Don Cherry, Lee Konitz, John McLaughlin, Hōzan Yamamoto, Dave Holland, Gunther Schuller, the Mingus Epitaph Orchestra, Sam Rivers, Pharoah Sanders, Globe Unity Orchestra and a host of others.
Berger continuously won the Down Beat critics poll in the category of the best jazz vibraphone player of the year between 1969 and 1975. He was improvising in an abstract, but vivid manner. Berger was one of the first to investigate and incorporate world music and devised a unique system for understanding and playing in any meter, from standard time signatures to more exotic odd meters and polyrhythms. His book on this topic was published as Dr. B.'s Rhythmic Training.

In 1981 he performed at the Woodstock Jazz Festival, held in celebration of the tenth anniversary of the Creative Music Studio. In 1993, he recorded string arrangements for Jeff Buckley's album, "Grace." He collaborated with Bill Laswell as musical arranger and conductor, thus contributing to recordings of Jeff Buckley, Natalie Merchant (Ophelia), Better Than Ezra, Sly & Robbie, Angélique Kidjo, Buckethead and Shin Terai.

Berger directs the Creative Music Studio Archive Project, in collaboration with Columbia University, New York, where over 400 recordings with leading improvising artists of the 70's and 80's are transferred to digital domains and an oral history component preserves essential information from the heyday of the Creative Music Studio.
The Creative Music Studio:

Sample Recording:

Sample Recording:

Here is a unique, perhaps once-in-a-lifetime, opportunity to hear great jazz players in a rural Michigan setting. In 2013 (this year), Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso were named "Jazz Heroes" by the Jazz Journalists Association.
I, of course, will be there, so if you come, be sure to look me up and say hi! I will be helping to run a meditation tent, and the indefatigable Lama Karma (from KTD Monastery) will be there with me to share Buddhist teachings, give interviews, and perhaps even offer refuge and blessing ceremonies. More on Lama Karma in another blog.

[Photo of Karl Berger by Davide Anastasi; photo of Ingrid Sertso by P. Ciffarelli.]