- Young sax player drawn to music full of good tone, solid rhythm, By Roger Levesque, the Edmonton Journal, Friday, June 1st,2001:
It's always comforting to know that among the great plethora of up-and-coming jazz experimenters there are a few gifted young talents who fearlessly enjoy playing it straight ahead, who just care about sounding good. Saxophonist Don Berner recalls one of the most important things he ever learned from his early mentor Gordon Towill (who started the Edmonton Jazz society's Little Birds Big Band over a decade ago): "He told me, 'If you've got good tone and good time, people will pay to hear you play', and that's kind of what it's all about for me. I'm a bit of a traditionalist. The more modern stuff is great but I really lov early John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley and Art Blakey's hard bop bands." Already well experienced for his 26 years, Berner leades his own trio Saturday night at Four Rooms in Edmonton Centre Downtown (the music runs from 9 p.m. to after midnight). Rob Thompson joins in on keyboard (including his Hammond organ sonic facsimile), and Ron Sampson covers the puls on drumset Berner plays mostly alto, and the trio taps a mix of originals (from all three players) and standards, some tunes in a Jimmy Smith vein, plying a working relationship that goes back well over a year. Don't let Berner's age fool you. He started young, thanks to the encouragement of his music teacher mom, and he remembers hearing all sorts of sounds growing up, from Armstrong to ABBA. After joining the little birds in his mid-teens he got into the music program at Grant MacEwan Community College right after high school, and delved into various extracurricular bands from there. Since then he's blown his sax alongside the likes of Pat LeBarbera, Hugh Fraser and P.J. Perry,among others, and worked in orchestra settings with Tommy Banks, Gary Guthman and Bob Stroup, an experience that gave him an appetite to write for large bands. Berner also toured with Chicago blus singer E.C. Scott, played on Dianne Donovan's first recording, and more recently wound up in the Big Breakfast Boogie Band and on it's album. Despite his ongoing interest in big-band composition, the reed man enjoys the possibilities of trio work too. "It's much more open and you can take more time to develop your ideas. There's also more interaction because a trio doesn't have to be so arranged and there's less ensemble work. At the same time it's not just thrown together. When we're performing we want it to sound right." You can keep up with Berner's live appearances at www.donberner.com- Berner really blows his horn, By Roger Levesque, the Edmonton Journal, Thurs, Nov 20/97:
Don Berner, at tender age of 23, already a jazz veteran on sax Back in the late 1950s, drummer Art Blakey and his Jazz Messengers became synonymous with a bold, driven update of bebop jazz. It became known as hard bop and it's from that moniker and sound that reed man Don Berner took the inspiration for Hard Corps, the sextet that hits the City Media Club on Friday. It's significant that alto saxophonist Berner, just 23, is one of the youngest members in a lineup with J.C. Jones on trombone, Bob Tildesley on trumpet, Bill Richards on piano, bassist John Taylor and drummer Sandro Dominelli. Their repertoire is split half-and-half between Berner's originals and tunes by the likes of Blakey and Jazz Messenger alumnus Bobby Watson. "It's really coming out of the same place," says Berner, "lots of energy. I really enjoyed the Messengers' music and we're using the same lineup." Berner is a home-grown talent who grew up hearing a lot of different music around the house but his parent's jazz albums were the most important part. He took up sax just before entering junior high and really got into jazz during his high school years. A couple of years in the Littlebirds Big Band and another two years in the music program at Grant MacEwan Community College left him full of enthusiasm for live performance and he got what he asked for. In the summer of 1995 Berner joined in on the busking efforts of the United Saxophone Liberation Front, Fringe Festival regulars who continue to heat up festival sites (they're on the bill for First Night next month). Then in the spring of 1996 he brought the Hard Corps band to the Yardbird, and recently he's been working in Tilo Paiz's Banda Amistad up to several nights a week. Over the years he's played in big bands for Tommy Banks, Gary Guthman and Bob Stroup, and appeared with Pat LaBarbera, Bobby Shew and P.J. Perry. You can also hear him on Dianne Donovan's recent CD Yes And No. He hopes the Hard Corps could be heading for their own recording in a year or two.
- Back to Basics, by Roger Levesque, the Edmonton Journal, Friday, May 5, 2000:
Sax, Bass, drums. It's about the simplest equation you can find in a jazz trio and one of the most challenging, too. Alto saxophonist Don Berner has headed up a quintet too and worked in many other contexts, but tonight at Zenari's On 1st, he's back to basics with his brother, bassist Doug Berner, and drummer Ron Sampson (as usual for Zenari's jazz Fridays, the music runs from 8 p.m. to midnight). As the reedman explains: "Without a comping instrument (spare complimentary backup from a piano for instance) I expect things will be a little looser, more free form. But it's music that's really important to me so I hope people can come down." Edmonton-born Berner has been focusing on writing his own tunes the past few years and the trio will be exploring those compositions along with a few standards "that haven't been done to death." Either way, you can expect a personal approach. Berner was just entering high school when he heard both the Littlebirds Big Band, and the big band from the music program at Grant MacEwan College. He wound up being part of both: two years with the Littlebirds, followed by two years at GMCC. Somewhere along the way he took his key inspiration from saxophonists like Charlie Parker, Connonball Adderley and Kenny Garrett. Now 26, he blows in a wide variety of situations (like last week with the A-Channel Boogie Band). That's the reality of trying to get frequent work in the music business here, but Berner says, "Jazz is still my first love."
- E.C. Scott steals the show, by Roger Levesque, the Edmonton Journal, Sat, Aug. 21/99:
. . . Seriously though, this was all in good fun, so much fun that it galvanized the crowd to fill up the dance space as the singer and her band put in an extended take of Stand By Me to turn down the fire. Wailing guitarist Bill Ireton was the key in fanning Scott's flammable presence along with the fine last-minute substitution of local saxman Don Berner for Scott's regular (flying without charts, he managed to land the horn part anyway). . . .