We both studied with Charlie Benacos back in our Berklee days though at different times, and yes Jeff was known around town and amongst most players at Berklee as a bit out of control ego-wise. That said, having seen him play many many times aroundBoston, he was pretty amazing. I studied with Miroslav Vitous who's ego was every bit as big as Jeff's. If you can back it up then it's fine. From a musical standpoint no bass player was playing the stuff Jeff was. I agree he was a bit busy for my taste,
the following is a letter I sent to Bass Player magazine lately. it covers many points I'd like to raise about Jeff Berlin and I feel it's worth discussion in a forum such as this. I look forward to responses.
My 7+ year subscription to Bass Player is hanging by a thread. Your Jeff Berlin interview was pretty disgraceful, considering that you teased us with the question "Motormouth of Musical Genius?" on the cover. The story inside was nothing more than a puff piece that made this controversial bassist look like the next Mingus.
While I would agree that Berlin is amusing to read, I do feel the value of his musical ability is quite arguable. No doubt he is technically gifted and quite outspoken, and even the star of a terribly funny instructional video. However, as one who has read nearly every article he has written for Bass Player and Guitar Player many years ago, I find that he has very little to say.
Over and over Berlin says the same things and while they are valuable and things I agree with (get a teacher, learn to read, transcribe Sonny Stitt, etc)
he's not saying much.
Beyond that are his questionable musical qualifications. Berlin LOVES to name-drop about all the folks he has jammed with. However, a look at his discography shows just how few of those people want to _continue_ working with
Berlin. You may notice, in the Feb. 98 issue that has Berlin's discography, it
is much shorter than Christian McBride's, and he has been in the biz for MUCH less time than Berlin. Beyond that, how easy is it to find some of Berlin's work in a music store (and not a "out-of-print" only store)? I would even venture to say that Berlin is the least recorded member of your Advisory Board.
No, this isn't the best qualification for taking one's advice, but it makes one ask Why this is.
While Jeff has been gone from the LA music scene for a while, there are stories that remain about him. The jist of such stories is that he does NOT listen, he just solos and plays way too many notes. This is said to be the reason why Frank Zappa, John McLaughlin, Robert Fripp, and Eddie Van Halen never recorded with him and why Bill Bruford and Allan Holdsworth are Former bandmates. I think Berlin made a very telling remark in his interview. He talks about how he admires Sting and Paul McCartney. While most musicians would be proud to write songs as good as they have, Berlin says, "I would love
to be able to put down eight bars of bass solo on any one of their songs."
On top of this, his writing skills are suspect. His compositions are little
more than faceless pop-jazz and forced attempts to "rock out" by turning up the
drums. On top of this, his use of musical terminology (what "tonalities" did the Beatles introduce to pop?) is highly uninformed. And I'm not even going to
get into his laughable singing on the Bruford album.
I think it's high time this question was asked about Jeff Berlin: Why don't people want to play with him? Why does he make his living educating and writing columns? Why is it that people want to play and record with Victor Wooten, Christian McBride, Marcus Miller, etc., but not Jeff? Why were his didn't-sell-so-great solo albums out of print for so long? "Motormouth or musical genius?" indeed!
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