Karl Berger

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Karl Berger
Karl Hans Berger

(1935-03-30)March 30, 1935
Heidelberg, Gau Baden, German Reich
DiedApril 9, 2023(2023-04-09) (aged 88)
EducationFree University of Berlin

Karl Hans Berger (March 30, 1935 – April 9, 2023) was a German-American jazz pianist, vibraphonist, composer, and educator. He was a leading figure in jazz improvisation from the 1960s when he settled in the United States for life. He founded the educational Creative Music Studio in Woodstock, New York, in 1972 with his wife and Ornette Coleman, to encourage international students to pursue their own ideas about music.

Life and career[edit]

Berger was born on March 30, 1935, in Heidelberg.[1][2] He started playing classical piano when he was ten and worked in his early twenties at a club in his hometown.[1] He learned modern jazz from visiting American musicians, such as Don Ellis and Leo Wright. During the 1960s, he started playing vibraphone.[2] He studied musicology and sociology at the Free University of Berlin, achieving a doctoral degree in 1963 with a dissertation on music in Sowjet ideology.[3] He worked as a member of Don Cherry's band in Paris.[2][1] When the band went to New York City to record Symphony for Improvisers, he recorded his debut album as a leader.[1][4]

Berger worked with drummers Ed Blackwell and Jack DeJohnette, bassist Dave Holland, and saxophonists Ornette Coleman, Lee Konitz and Ivo Perelman.[1] He worked further with Michael Bisio,[1] Anthony Braxton and Baba Olatunji,[5] as well as with Carla Bley, Bill Laswell[6] John McLaughlin and Roswell Rudd,[1] and with the Mingus Epitaph Orchestra,[7] As musical arranger and conductor, he contributed to albums by Better Than Ezra,[8] Buckethead,[9] Jeff Buckley,[10] Angélique Kidjo, Natalie Merchant and Rich Robinson, among others.[3]

With Coleman and Ingrid Sertso, Berger's wife, he founded the Creative Music Studio (CMS) in Woodstock, New York, in 1972,[1] to encourage students to pursue their own ideas about music.[2] Berger considered Coleman his friend and mentor, and like Coleman he was drawn to avant-garde jazz, free jazz, and free improvisation.[1][4] The focus of CMS was "teaching improvising musicians to develop their own aesthetics, and to draw and mesh ideas from across genres, traditions, and international borders".[1] Among the teachers were John Cage, Steve Lacy, George Russell and Richard Teitelbaum.[3] They closed the facility in 1984, but held masterclasses internationally, called World Jazz. Berger and Sertso founded Sertso Recording Studio in Woodstock in 2004.[1]

Berger also taught at the New School,[1] and at the Frankfurt University of Music and Performing Arts from 1994 to 2003.[3] He then led the department of music of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth to 2005.[3] He and his wife revived CMS in 2013, and retired in 2017.[1] He remained active in music for the rest of his life, releasing his final album in the fall of 2022.[1][11]

Berger died at a hospital in Albany, New York, on April 9, 2023, at age 88, from complications after surgery.[1][5]


Berger's recordings include:[12][13][14][7][15][16]

As leader[edit]

As sideman[edit]

With Don Cherry

With Bill Laswell

With Ivo Perelman

With others


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o West, Michael J. (April 11, 2023). "Jazz musician and local treasure, Karl Berger dies at 88". WRTI. Retrieved April 15, 2023.
  2. ^ a b c d Colin Larkin, ed. (1992). The Guinness Who's Who of Jazz (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 44. ISBN 0-85112-580-8.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Jazzmusiker Karl Berger gestorben". SWR (in German). April 11, 2023. Retrieved April 15, 2023.
  4. ^ a b Kelsey, Chris. "Karl Berger". AllMusic. Retrieved June 5, 2017.
  5. ^ a b "Jazz musician and local treasure, Karl Berger dies at 88". Hudson Valley One. April 10, 2023. Retrieved April 11, 2023.
  6. ^ a b Genzel, Christian. "Jazzonia". Allmusic. Retrieved October 19, 2014.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h "Recordings with Karl Berger". German National Library. 2023. Retrieved April 16, 2023.
  8. ^ a b "How Does Your Garden Grow? – Better Than Ezra / Credits" – via www.allmusic.com.
  9. ^ a b "Giant Robot". Allmusic. Retrieved February 17, 2012.
  10. ^ a b Karl Berger at AllMusic
  11. ^ "HEART IS A MELODY, by Karl Berger & Kirk Knuffke". bandcamp.com. Karl Berger & Kirk Knuffke. November 29, 2022. Retrieved April 16, 2023.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t "Karl Berger". jazzmusicarchives.com. 2023.
  13. ^ a b c d Brady, Brady (November 16, 2011). "Karl Berger". jazztimes.com. Retrieved April 16, 2023.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa "Karl Berger". scaruffi.com. 2018. Retrieved April 16, 2023.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r "Karl Berger discography". All About Jazz. Retrieved April 17, 2023.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Karl Berger". TIDAL. Retrieved April 17, 2023.
  17. ^ "Don Cherry: Togetherness". Jazz Music Archives. Retrieved August 12, 2022.
  18. ^ "Don Cherry: Live at Cafe Montmartre 1966". Jazz Music Archives. Retrieved August 9, 2022.
  19. ^ Jazzonia (booklet). Bill Laswell. Paris, France: Douglas Music. 1998.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  20. ^ Zorn, John (1995). "Bill Laswell: Filmtracks 2000". Tzadik Records. Retrieved October 28, 2014.
  21. ^ Khider, I. (May 2002). "Bill Laswell: Points of Order". Exclaim!. Retrieved October 22, 2014.
  22. ^ Ginell, Richard S. (2011). "Escalator Over the Hill – Carla Bley | AllMusic". allmusic.com. Retrieved July 18, 2011.
  23. ^ "A Brief History of the Creative Music Studio" (PDF). Creative Music Studio. Retrieved April 17, 2023.
  24. ^ Kellman, Andy. "Broken Politics – Neneh Cherry". AllMusic. Retrieved October 23, 2018.
  25. ^ Raggett, Ned. "Black Music". AllMusic. Retrieved May 25, 2014.
  26. ^ "Good Apollo I'm Burning Star IV". progarchives.com. Retrieved April 17, 2023.
  27. ^ "COHEED AND CAMBRIA, Good Apollo I'm Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through The Eyes Of Madness".
  28. ^ "Klaus König / Jazz Live Trio — Jazz Live Trio With Slide Hampton, Karl Berger, Glenn Ferris : Jazz Live Trio With Guests". Jazz Music Archives. Retrieved April 17, 2023.
  29. ^ "Slide Hampton 1972 / Karl Berger 1978 / Glenn Ferris 1981 Jazz Live Trio".
  30. ^ "Theo Jörgensmann: Fellowship". All About Jazz. February 27, 2018. Retrieved April 17, 2023.
  31. ^ "Penn State Library Catalogs: Theo Jorgensmann Fellowship".
  32. ^ "CMS Releases its Second Set of Rare Archival Recordings". jazzpages.de. October 8, 2015. Retrieved April 17, 2023.
  33. ^ "Hans Koller & Friends / Big Sound Koller". A Selection of Jazz on Sonorama. All About Jazz. March 18, 2018. Retrieved April 17, 2023.
  34. ^ Karl Berger at AllMusic
  35. ^ "Sylvain Leroux – Quatuor Créole (featuring Karl Berger) (2012)". somethingelsereviews.com. December 26, 2012. Retrieved April 17, 2023.
  36. ^ "Machine Gun / Machine Gun". AllMusic. Retrieved April 17, 2023.
  37. ^ "The Magpie Salute: The Magpie Salute (Review)". musikreviews.de (in German). June 18, 2017. Retrieved April 17, 2023.
  38. ^ "Kesang Marstrand / Our Myth". reverbnation.com. Retrieved April 17, 2023.
  39. ^ "Patience on Friday / Ryan Montbleau". AllMusic. Retrieved April 17, 2023.
  40. ^ "Innermedium / Robert Musso". AllMusic. Retrieved April 17, 2023.
  41. ^ "Polytime (with Karl Berger)". progarchives.com. Retrieved April 17, 2023.
  42. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Through a Crooked Sun – Rich Robinson". AllMusic. Retrieved February 2, 2022.
  43. ^ "Roswell Rudd: Blown Bone". Jazz Music Archives. Retrieved June 25, 2022.
  44. ^ "Frederic Rzewski / Attica/Coming Together/Les Moutons De Panurge". dustygroove.com. Retrieved April 17, 2023.
  45. ^ "Alan Silva: Skillfullness". Jazz Music Archives. Retrieved May 15, 2022.

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