Richard Alan Berk was born on May 22, 1939 in San Francisco, California. He studied at the Berklee College of and played in the Boston area early in the 1960s.
In 1962 he moved to New York City and played with Ted Curson and Bill Barron in a quintet until 1964. Following this Dick played with Charles Mingus, Mose Allison, Freddie Hubbard, and Walter Bishop Jr. among others.
A move to Los Angeles late in the decade saw Berk playing with Milt Jackson, George Duke, Cal Tjader, John Hicks, Ray Drummond, Ted Curson, Don Friedman, . Jean-Luc Ponty and Blue Mitchell, to name a few. He went on to establish the Jazz Adoption Agency in the early 1980s, played well into the 2000s; among this group’s alumni are Andy Martin, Mike Fahn, Nick Brignola, John Noagormey, Keith Saunders, Tad Weed and John Patitucci.
He recorded eight albums as a leader and another nine as a sideman. Drummer and bandleader Dick Berk passed away on February 8, 2014 at the age of 74.
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Billy Cobham was born William Emanuel Cobham on May 16, 1944 in Panama but moved to New York City with his family during his early childhood. A drummer from his youth, he attended New York’s High School of Music and Art. Graduating in 1962, he played in a U.S. Army Band from 1965 to 1968, followed by joining Horace Silver’s ensemble for a year. He went on to work with Stanley Turrentine, Shirley Scott and George Benson.
Branching out into jazz fusion Cobham blended elements of jazz, rock and funk to create a signature sound and recorded with the Brecker Brothers in their 1970 group Dream. From here he performed with John Abercrombie, then touring extensively with Miles Davis and recording on may albums including A Tribute To Jack Johnson.
By 1970s, Cobham was working with John McLaughlin, co-founding the Mahavisnu Orchestra, released his first solo debut titled Spectrum, and played with Carlos Santana, George Duke and Jan Hammer. It was during this period that he began recording a series of groundbreaking fusion records and experiencing astral projections during his concerts.
He would record extensively for the fusion-oriented CTI Records, while simultaneously becoming a member of the New York Jazz Quartet. By the Eighties he was working with Jack Bruce & Friends, joined up with the Grateful Dead for a performance at Radio City Music Hall, formed his Glass Menagerie, releasing two albums with Michael Urbaniak, Gil Goldstein, Tim Landers and Mike Stern. The Nineties saw Billy with an all-star cast Live At The Greek with Stanley Clarke, Larry Carlton, Najee and Deron Johnson.
In the millennium a number of solo albums have followed with drummer Billy Cobham releasing more than 30 recordings under his own name, and continuing to record, perform and teach.
Mel Lewis was born Melvin Sokoloff on May 10, 1929 in Buffalo, New York. He started playing professionally as a teen, eventually joining Stan Kenton’s outfit in 1954. H e moved to Los Angeles to further his career in 1957 and then cross-country to New York City in 1963.
By 1966 in New York, he teamed up with Thad Jones to lead the thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra. The group started as an informal jam session with the top studio and jazz musicians of the city, but eventually began performing regularly on Monday nights at the Village Vanguard. Though it was a sideline gig for the musicians, in 1979 the band won a Grammy for their album Live in Munich. When Jones moved to Denmark it became known as Mel Lewis and the Jazz Orchestra.
Mel recorded and performed in small group configurations occasionally but he led the band until shortly before his death. It has now become known as the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and has released several CDs. Over his career Lewis recorded with Manny Albam, Chet Baker, Bud Shank, Bob Brookmeyer, Kenny Burrell, Eric Dolphy, Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Lovano, Herbie Mann, Jack McDuff, Gary MacFarland, Jimmy McGriff, James Moody, Chico O’Farrill, Shirley Scott, Sonny Stitt, Thad Jones, Pepper Adams and Jimmy Witherspoon to name a few.
In the late 1980s, Lewis was diagnosed with melanoma in his arm, then surfaced in his lungs and ultimately traveled to his brain. The drummer and bandleader played exclusively on a lighter Turkish made Istanbul cymbals that exuded a dark, overtone-rich sound, as well as his wood-shell drums were considered warm and rich in their sound. Mel Lewis passed away on February 2, 1990 in New York City, just days before his band was to celebrate its 24th anniversary at the Village Vanguard.
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Dennis Chambers was born May 9, 1959 in Baltimore Maryland. He started playing drums at the age of 4 and his ardent interest in drums at that age propelled him to keep playing whenever he got a chance. A child prodigy started performing in clubs at the age of 6, despite his lack of formal training. Within a short time, he had been invited to perform in most nightclubs in Baltimore area.
After graduating from high school in 1978, Chambers, then 18, joined George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, a band he played with until 1985. He was recruited in 1981 by the Sugar Hill Label to be their house drummer and played on many Sugar Hill releases including, “Rapper’s Delight”. A sought after first call drummer for his technique and speed, as well as his ability to play “in the pocket”. His session work and performance have included John Scofield, George Duke, The Brecker Brothers, Santana, John McLaughlin, Mike Stern, CAB, Craig Howe, Sugar Hill Gang and his own band Niacin, among others.
Dennis went on to gain membership with Special EFX for two years, then joined David Sanborn, and performed on the critically acclaimed Maceo Parker live album “Roots and Grooves” with the WDR Big Band. He has played with most of the major jazz-fusion musicians.
Drummer Dennis Chambers has appeared as a featured drummer on the late Show with David Letterman’s Drum Solo Week II, alongside other such notable players Tony Royster Jr., Gavin Harris, Neil Peart and Stewart Copeland. He continues to perform, tour and record.
Mark Sherman was born April 17, 1957 in Manhattan, New York City to a Juillliard trained soprano mother who performed with the Cleveland and Boston symphonies, so it was natural that he studied classical piano as a child.
Sherman graduated from The High School of Music and in 1975, then went on to study classical percussion at Juilliard. He performed in ensembles under the direction of Leonard Bernstein, Sir George Solti, Zubin Mehta and Herbert Von Karajan. While there he would jam regularly with Wynton Marsalis. During the course of his career, Sherman also studied with Elvin Jones, Rohland Kohloff, Justin Diccocco, Roland Hanna and Jackie Byard among others.
While still in his teens, Mark played drums in a trio with pianist Kenny Kirkland who he introduced to Wynton. At 21, he began working on Broadway and in New York’s active studio scene, playing percussion, piano, drums and vibraphone. In 1980 he released his first album Fulcrum Point on Unisphere records. The decade saw him in studio working on commercial jingles.
Sherman spent a lot of his time in the studio in the 1980s, working on commercial jingles. Pianist Mike Renzi took him under his wing, connecting him with Peggy Lee and other singers performing with Lee, Tony Bennett, Mel Torme, Lena Horne and Ruth Brown. In 1986 he signed with Columbia Records and released his major label debut, A New Balance.
He continued to perform with Peggy Lee in the early 1990s, began a seven-year playing relationship with Larry Coryell, became an active studio musician, and played on numerous films and Broadway soundtracks. Reemerging as a leader playing vibraphone, he also continued his active career as a sideman, recording with Capathia Jenkins, Jennifer Holiday, Ann Hampton Callaway, Liz Minnelli and others.
Sherman continued to release his own albums on Miles High Records, won the Rising Star (Vibes) category in the Down Beat Critics Poll in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 and has been a Jazz Ambassador for the U.S. State Department and Jazz at Lincoln Center.
Vibraphonist, pianist and drummer Mark Sherman is currently on the faculty of Juilliard jazz program, New Jersey City University and the New York Jazz Workshop.