Tenor sax and clarinet great George Berry passed away August 4, 2004.
Born in 1939 and started playing clarinet at the age of 16 yrs. which led to membership of several South-London bands. After emigrating to Toronto in 1966 he joined Kid Bastiens Camelia Jazz Band giving him the opportunity to visit New Orleans on several occations where he even played in the Preservation Hall together with Kid Bastien and Kid Thomas. After having heard Emanuel Paul he started playing the tenor sax. He stayed with Kid Bastien for seven years. In 1978 he returned to England and later became member of the Ken Colyer Trust Band for two years and joined the Rue Conti Band in 1993. After playing with Annie Hawkins New Orleans Legacy Band he is now a regular member of the Blount Band with whom he visited Denmark in April 2000. The visit in November 2002 was a musical reunion with Kid Bastien.
St.Just dArdèche, 20.8.04
Ill always remember the first time George came to play with my band in 1998,when Chris Blount became too ill to come to Switzerland for a tour. George stood in the kitchen in our house with me ,we had only just met ,and told me his lifestory in great detail for about an hour or so. I felt that I had known him for years and liked him instantly. And then I heard him play the music we all love so much and was completely taken in esp.by his saxophone playing. As soon as he started, I felt relaxed ,the band was swinging and everyone just had a fabulous time. After Chris died ,George joined permanently , settled in the band quickly and became a very close personal friend and so did his wife Maureen . Everyone loved his stories and he would have us in fits , he would start on something,then within seconds get sidetracked,then again loose himself on something else and in the end wouldnt remember where he had started. As a musician he was just fantastic : he could build and build on a solo and take everyone in the band with him until one thought there wasnt anywhere else to go and then still build up more excitement. We will carry on,because Im sure thats what he would want us to do , but without him it will never be the same again. He realised his dream moving to Spain , its such a shame it only lasted a few months .
We feel privileged to have known George and to have been able to play with him and he will always be in our hearts.
- Barbara Widmer Taylor, Tony Taylor
and the New Revival Band
Once, maybe fifteen years ago when I was playing tenor sax and clarinet with Kid Bastien, I had experience that affected me very deeply. George Berry was in town, the great tenor sax and clarinet player whose shoes I was vainly trying to fill. George had played in Kid Bastien's Camelia Band in the 1970's. In honour of the occasion, we had a special party at the Jack Russell Pub, across from the Wellesley subway. Brian Williams came out of retirement just for the chance to play clarinet and alto sax with George. There I was, playing clarinet with two of the finest New Orleans style clarinetists alive - Brian Williams soaring on my right, and George Berry playing his heart out on my left. I felt two or three things: absolutely outclassed; delighted by the shear beauty of their music; and honoured to have the opportunity to play in company like that. It was an honour I will not forget.Brian Williams died of cancer on March 26, 1990. George Berry passed away this morning, August 4, 2004 of a stroke.
The world is a poorer place now, but it is richer to have had them both.
- Patrick Tevlin, Happy Pals
I first met George Berry in 1980 in Cambridge. I was struck then by his playing which was unique. One could see the influences but he was his own man. Over the subsequent years we played together in a variety of bands. He was a member of my band for five happy years and we were together in Annie Hawkins New Orleans Legacy. We (George, Dave Copperwaite, Charles King and myself) recorded the Melody Inn Quartet CD in 1999, thinking that it would be a good idea to remind people about the Harold Dejan/Lionel Ferbos band of the '60s.
We dedicated the CD to those two musicians and were happy to know that they fully approved of our recording when they received their copies. That recording, coupled with the Kid Bastien/George Berry with New Orleans Delight CD is a lasting tribute to a one-off musician. George will be sadly missed."
- Louis Lince
The untimely death of George Berry is not only a terrible loss for his family and friends but also for the small world of true New Orleans jazz. On all the reed instruments, he played so well, he showed a tremendous understanding of this simple, but oh so difficult to play in the right way, music of New Orleans. Together with his soul mate Cliff "Kid" Bastien, whom we lost not so long ago, he was one of the few who could play this music like if he was born and raised in the Crescant City. His recorded legacy is there to prove it. The CD he recorded, again together with Kid Bastien, with New Orleans Delight is a work of great beauty and should be in every New Orleans collection, together with the recorded output of the original legends of New Orleans jazz He will be sorely missed.
- Marcel Joly, The JazzGazette
I believe I may have sent these words to you, Kjeld, But George Berry and I had many a talk and a Dram or two in Toronto in the 60s where he played atthe Ports of Call and the Olde Brunswick House Tavern and other places.
I would always ask him to play more Clarinet and less tenor sax. I do believe he preferred playing the sax more though. I bought his one and only LP record starring him, from him, with clarinet on one side and tenor on the other, and I really did listen more to the clarinet side. HA!
But George could play either well, and in the correct manner of New Orleans jazz. He was always a gentle man and a "gentleman", and my wife and I enjoyed his company and his music on many weekends when we flew on Air Canada jets down to Toronto, 350 km. from our home in Windsor Ontario.
Jazz, after a terrible loss of Kid Bastien, and now George , both way too young, is worse off, as are we the lovers of New Orleans style music.
- Richard Luker, Windsor, Ontario, Canada
To me George Berry was like a fine wine: with interest and character from the start but, as the years passed, with an increasing depth and maturity we can ill-afford to lose. It is my opinion that his playing on the occasion of his reunion with Kid Bastien in Kjeld Brandt's New Orleans Delight was a significant achievement in making such an outstanding recording. His was a rare vintage and we must rejoice that we were privileged to hear his playing.
- Brian Wood, Jazz Historian & Collector
Hvor bliver jeg dog trist - endnu en dejlig musiker har forladt os.
Jeg er oprigtig glad for at have netop DEN CD i min reol - hvem kunne dog vide at en ny tour aldrig skulle blive til noget. De viste begge hvor glade de var for at være i Danmark. Godt at du bragte dem til os, godt at du gav os mulighed for at få den helt unikke oplevelse, som jeg vil bevare i mit hjerte og glæde mig over at kunne genskabe via CD'en.
Æret være deres minde.
George Berry was a welcome guest in my home for 14 days during his tour of Denmark with Cliff Bastien and The New Orleans Delight. It says much of the man when you think that Cliff Bastien particularly asked for George to be on the tour and they were happy together. For many years they played in Canada and I think enjoyed swapping stories of the times they had spent together in past years. They were soul brothers, traveling the same route. My knowledge of George first came from his recordings with Barbara Widmer, Annie Hawkins and The Blount Band. I then met him in Sweden where at the time he was a member of The Blount Band, playing only his clarinet. His on stage performance was beautiful and when I heard him on the sax I discovered that he was able to combine his great tone with real power.
During the tour in Denmark it became apparent that his health was not good. His walking was restricted and he needed a lot of rest and yet was able to blow his horn for more than five hours at full power. Amazing! It is fortunate for us all that much of his work has been recorded and that will remain a testament to the man and his music.
Just a few weeks ago I spoke to him and he was so happy to be starting his new life in Spain. His visit to Denmark with The New Orleans Delight was a success and he was pleased that a return tour was in the planning stages. That was not to be. I also know how highly he felt about playing alongside Barbara Widmer and Tony.
He will be missed as one of the last great players of the style that we all love so deeply.
- Kjeld Brandt, New Orleans Delight
Maureen Berry "My few words".
Upon this 1st anniversary the English phrase "where does the time go?" comes to mind. It is difficult to comprehend how or why I have lived through this past year. On reflection, my only consolation has been that if there is someone or something who pre-ordains our "being", it was decided for George that he would not live as a cripple, but be taken from us.
So many beautiful words have previously been spoken about him and the music he loved, and my addition to these quotes is one I have remembered from the past.
As I listened to the latest CD released of the concert in Denmark 2002 at "Sorgenfri Kirke" in Denmark, with the Danish Band "The New Orleans Delight" with Cliff and George, I thought of what Art Farmer once said about the great saxophonists, those who had such an impact upon George's life,
"If I start counting heads and think how many people are no longer here anymore, it still comes as a shock to me because we don't think about people not being here, they are in us and will always be alive".
I miss him, the music and all of you. Music and its power to heal is one of God's greatest gifts. without it the world would be a far poorer place.
George Berry with Bengt Hansson, Cliff 'Kid' Bastien and Kjeld Brandt, Praestoe Jazzklub, dec. 2002. Photos: Göran Magnusson