Born: August 18 Primary Instrument: Piano
Pianist, composer, arranger and educator Shelly Berg brings a considerable array of talents to the contemporary music scene. Versatility coupled with innate talent has shown to be the keynote of his career.
Describing Berg's work as a jazz pianist, the Los Angeles Times stated, “Berg burns hard, his fingers flying over the keyboard while his body nearly levitates off the bench. Exhilarating . . . filled with breakneck parallel runs, sudden rhythmic shifts and harmonic modulations that leave the crowd breathless!” The LA Jazz Scene added, “Who invented Happiness? Walt Disney? Wrong. It was pianist Shelly Berg. It didn’t matter what tune or tempo, Berg genuinely found happiness with the music. His smile and body language were infectious. Berg’s deeply swinging, fluid, and often funky solo work was awesome.” Shelly was a finalist in the 1988 Great American Jazz Piano Competition, and his CD, “The Will”, spent eight weeks in the Top Ten of the Gavin Definitive Jazz Radio Chart. The Shelly Berg Trio's CD Blackbird (Concord) reached Number One on Jazz Week's radio chart (2005), and is still played frequently on radio and internet sites. His solo CD Nearness of You is also critically acclaimed (Arbors).
Shelly performed and arranged for Arturo Sandoval's multi Latin Grammy winning CD Time for Love, as well as Sandoval's most recent CD, Dear Diz (both on Concord) and was also prominently featured on Ray Sings, Basie Swings (Concord).
He has also co-written and collaborated extensively with Grammy nominated vocalist/lyricist Lorraine Feather.
Shelly has enjoyed a long collaboration with the great trombonist, Bill Watrous, with several CDs as a result. He is also the musical director for former Count Basie vocalist, Carmen Bradford, and regularly travels to perform with prominent jazz artists worldwide. Renowned as a great accompanist, Shelly has also been the pianist of choice for vocalists Monica Mancini, Patti Austin, Tierney Sutton and Joli Jones. In a review of his playing on Watrous' 1992 album, Bone-ified, Entertainment Today urged Take particular note of Shelly Berg's piano, at times quite reminiscent of the late great Bill Evans. Owen Cordle in Down Beat singled out Berg's contributions to Watrous' A Time For Love, observing, The charts by Shelly Berg are solid, functional backdrops for this trombone recital. And Leonard Feather, reviewing the same album in the Los Angeles Times remarked, Credit also to Shelly Berg who played keyboards and wrote some of the charts. Ken Franckling echoed these sentiments in JazzTimes noting, A lot of credit in making this work goes to...Shelly Berg.
Shelly’s abilities as a composer/arranger have led to work in motion picture and television studios and for major record companies. He has contributed music to feature films, including Fox 2000’s Men of Honor, with Robert DeNiro and Cuba Gooding, Jr, and Warner Bros’ releases “Almost Heroes”, starring Chris Farley and Matthew Perry, and “Three To Tango”, starring Matthew Perry and Neve Campbell. He provided orchestrations to the NBC mini-series The 60’s, and composing credits include the ABC series Fudge, the HBO series Dennis Miller Live, and the CBS series A League of Their Own.
Mr. Berg’s eclectic writing career has led to assignments with such diverse artists as KISS (the Grammy- nominated “Psycho Circus”), Chicago (“Night and Day”), Richard Marx (“Flesh and Bone”), Kurt Elling, Bonnie Raitt, and the Japanese superstar, Yoshiki. His orchestrations for “XO”, the 1998 release from alternative rock artist, Elliott Smith, contributed to that album being named the #2 recording of the year by Spin Magazine. His work with symphony orchestras includes the Royal Philharmonic, American Symphony, and Dallas Philharmonic to name a few. In 2001, Shelly orchestrated “Japan Concerto”, commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Emperor of Japan’s coronation. The concerto was performed to a live audience of 100,000 and a television audience in the millions. Berg was commissioned to compose Turn It On, the official theme of the 1986 Olympic Festival. He is also a seven-time ADDY award winner for commercial jingles, with industrial clients that have include Kelloggs, Boston Market, Texaco, Dole, and Wendy’s. Johnny Mandel called Shelly’s orchestrating “magnificent . . . incredible!”.
Shelly is currently Dean of the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami, where he is also the Patricia Frost Professor of Music. Recruited as dean in 2007, he attracted the Henry Mancini Institute to the Frost School, and transformed it into a year-round institute. He was formerly a professor and the McCoy/Sample Chair of Jazz Studies in the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California (USC), where he conducted the Thornton Jazz Orchestra. In 1996 he attracted the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance to USC.
Shelly served as the President of the International Association of Jazz Educators (IAJE) from 1996-1998, and in 2002 he received that association’s prestigious Lawrence Berk Leadership Award. Berg was the subject of an in- depth profile in the Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine, when in 2000 he was named one of three “Educators for the Millennium. Shelly is also the 2003 recipient of the Los Angeles Jazz Society’s “Educator of the Year” award.
Shelly Berg is a prolific jazz author and clinician, and he was the IAJE Resource Chair for improvisation. His groundbreaking text, Jazz Improvisation the Goal-Note Method is widely considered to be among the most succinct and complete tomes on the subject. Shelly’s Chop Monster improvisation series (Alfred) has been hailed as a revolutionary development in the teaching of improvisation at a beginning level. Shelly’s numerous published compositions for jazz ensemble are widely available. He has written articles for The Jazz Educators Journal, Keyboard, and BD Guide, and served as the Jazz/Pop Editor for Piano and Keyboard. An in-demand clinician, He has conducted more than 20 all-state ensembles and lectured at virtually every major US teacher conference, the IAJE Teacher Training Institutes, Interlochen, Bands of America, and other teaching camps. Shelly has presented workshops in most US states, Mexico, Canada, Israel, Japan and throughout Europe.
The genial, complete musician was born in Cleveland, Ohio. His father, trumpeter Jay Berg, instilled in his young son an appreciation of music such that, at the age of 6, he was accepted into the gifted program at the Cleveland Institute of Music where he studied solfege, theory and history.
At 13, he was playing professionally, accompanying theater productions. At the same time, he was venturing further into classical music, prodigiously playing Beethoven, Chopin, and the Well-Tempered Clavier. Simultaneously, his keen interest in jazz took hold, and he accompanied his father to numerous jam sessions, always attempting to sit in.
When Shelly was 15, the Berg family relocated to Houston, where Shelly became a fixture with Arnett Cobb, one of the truly legendary Texas Tenors, playing Sunday nights at Houston's White House Motel. Four years later, he had played with Eddie Lockjaw Davis, Buddy DeFranco, Sonny Stitt, Al Grey, and various members of the Count Basie, Buddy Rich and Woody Herman orchestras. As a matter or fact, he was offered a job with Herman's Thundering Herd, but turned it down in order to continue his education.
Besides composing for the Clear Creek High School choir, he acted in school plays, was a member of the football and baseball teams, and was an honor graduate in 1973. He enrolled at the University of Houston on a music scholarship. Shelly graduated third in the College of Humanities & Fine Arts, Summa cum laude, and was named one of the Top 10 students (out of 40,000) at the University.
Married at the age of 19, he supported his wife by working five to six nights each week in a band playing both Top 40 material and jazz. From there he ventured into other areas, garnering a wide range of broad musical experience playing in salsa groups, R & B groups, and even recorded on two of Mickey Gilley's Columbia albums. At the same time he was introduced into the jingle world and began producing jingles and music for fashion shows and anything else that would help pay the rent.
Subsequently, the University of Houston offered Shelly a teaching fellowship in theory, so he began work on his Masters Degree. Again, he graduated Summa cum laude at the time his second child, Kyle, was born. In 1979 Shelly accepted the position of Director of Instrumental Music at San Jacinto College in Texas. There he spent 12 years developing its musical department and raising his now three children. His department enjoyed tremendous success and grew to become the most respected program of its kind in the country. During this time Shelly maintained a healthy schedule producing records, performing in jazz clubs as well as composing and arranging.
It was during this period that Shelly Berg met Bill Watrous, who came to the University as a guest artist. Shelly began working with Watrous' group, and since then they have maintained a close personal and professional association. This collaboration inspired him to again think about developing a career as a jazz pianist. In line with that goal, he entered the Great American Jazz Piano Competition in 1988 and made the finals, which was the subject of a PBS documentary. Watrous urged him to come to Los Angeles and in the autumn of 1991 Shelly accepted a professorship at the University of Southern California.
As noted above, Shelly Berg has enjoyed a satisfying career in the L.A. jazz scene, where he has worked with his own acclaimed Shelly Berg Trio (Gregg Field, drums, and Chuck Berghofer, bass), and alongside such jazz greats as Arturo Sandoval, Tom Scott, Dave Koz, Bill Perkins, Bill Berry, Pete Christlieb, Bill Henderson, Lanny Morgan, John Clayton, Roy McCurdy, Buddy Childers, Tierney Sutton, Patti Austin, and others. A duo with guitarist, Frank Potenza, also performs regularly. While continuing to explore a vast depth of musical experience through teaching, composing, recording and producing, Shelly's passion remains playing jazz piano, and for that countless audiences are very grateful.
Various Artists, Forever Ray Charles (MCTS, 2007)
Shelly Berg/Frank Potenza, First Takes (Azica, 2006)
Shelly Berg, Blackbird (Concord, 2005)
Various Artists, Ultimate Mancini (Concord, 2004)
Carmen Bradford/Shelly Berg, Home With You (Azica, 2004)
Ron McCurdy Quartet, Once Again for the First Time (Innova, 2002)
Jeff Jarvis, Following Footsteps (Amherst, 1998)
Shelly Berg, The Will: A Tribute to Oscar Peterson (Cars, 1997)
Bill Watrous, Space Available (Double-Time, 1997)
Shelly Berg, The Joy (DMP, 1996)
Bill Watrous, Bone-Ified (GNP, 1992)
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