Tim Berne

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Tim Berne
Tim Berne.jpg
Photo by Matt Brown
Background information
Born (1954-10-16) October 16, 1954 (age 64)
GenresAvant-garde jazz
Years active1979–present
LabelsEmpire, Soul Note, Columbia, JMT, Screwgun, Thirsty Ear, Clean Feed, ECM
Associated actsJulius Hemphill, BB&C, Big Satan, Bloodcount, Miniature, Michael Formanek, Paraphrase, Snakeoil, Nels Cline, Buffalo Collision, Ethan Iverson, Ches Smith, Hank Roberts, Jim Black, Mr. Rencore, Ananda Gari, Alessio Riccio, Science Friction, The Shell Game, Craig Taborn

Tim Berne (born 1954) is an American jazz saxophonist and composer.

Described by critic Thom Jurek as commanding "considerable power as a composer and ... frighteningly deft ability as a soloist",[1] Berne has composed and performed prolifically since the 1980s. His mainstream success has been limited – Berne recorded two albums for Columbia Records – but he has released a significant body of work over the decades spanning dozens of critically acclaimed recordings.[2]


Although Berne was a music fan, he had no interest in playing a musical instrument until he was in college, when he purchased an alto saxophone. He was more interested in rhythm and blues music—Stax records and Aretha Franklin especially – until he heard Julius Hemphill's 1972 recording Dogon A.D. [3] Hemphill was known for his integration of soul music and funk with free jazz. After moving to New York City in 1974, Berne took lessons from Hemphill and later recorded with him.[3]

In 1979, Berne founded Empire Records to release his music. He recorded Fulton Street Maul and Sanctified Dreams for Columbia, which generated some discussion and controversy[citation needed] in part because his music had little in common with the neo-traditionalist hard bop performers prominent in the mid-1980s.[citation needed] Some[who?]regarded his music as uncommercial. In the late 1990s Berne founded Screwgun Records, which has released his albums and albums by other musicians

Berne has worked with guitarist Bill Frisell, avant-garde composer/sax player John Zorn, violinist Mat Maneri, guitarist David Torn, cellist Hank Roberts, trumpeter Herb Robertson, the ARTE Quartett. He has been a member of the trio Miniature. He has performed in groups with drummers Tom Rainey and Gerald Cleaver, keyboardist Craig Taborn, bassists Michael Formanek and Drew Gress, guitarists Marc Ducret and David Torn, and reeds player Chris Speed. He is one-third of the group BBC (Berne/Black/Cline) with Jim Black and Nels Cline of Wilco. The group released a critically acclaimed album called The Veil in 2011.[4]

Berne's compositions are often twenty- to thirty-minutes. One critic wrote that his long songs "don't grow tiresome. The musicians are brilliantly creative and experienced enough not to get lost in all the room provided by these large time frames."[citation needed]


Tim Berne.


As leader/co-leader[edit]

As sideman[edit]

With Ray Anderson

With Nels Cline

With Marc Ducret

  • Tower Vol. 2 (Ayler, 2011)
  • Tower Bridge (Ayler, 2014)

With Simon Fell

  • Positions & Descriptions (Clean Feed, 2011)

With Figure 8

With Michael Formanek

  • Extended Animation (Enja, 1992)
  • Loose Cannon (Soul Note, 1993) with Jeff Hirshfield
  • Low Profile (Enja, 1994)
  • Nature of the Beast (Enja, 1997)
  • The Rub and Spare Change (ECM, 2010)
  • Small Places (ECM, 2012)
  • The Distance (ECM, 2016)

With Vinny Golia

  • Compositions for Large Ensemble (Nine Winds, 1984)
  • Facts of Their Own Lives (Nine Winds, 1986)

With Drew Gress

  • Spin & Drift (Premonition, 2001)
  • 7 Black Butterflies (Premonition, 2005)
  • The Irrational Numbers (Premonition, 2007)
  • The Sky Inside (Pirouet, 2013)

With Mark Helias

  • Split Image (Enja, 1985)
  • The Current Set (Enja, 1986)

With Julius Hemphill

With Peter Herborn

  • Something Personal (JMT, 1993)

With Lindsey Horner

  • Never No More (Open Minds, 1991)

With Hilmar Jensson

  • Dofinn (Jazzis, 1995)

With Ingrid Laubrock

With 9Volt

  • Open Circuit (OutNow, 2012)

With Omonimo

  • The Bang (Nueva, 1991)

With Jon Raskin

  • The Bass & the Bird Pond (New World, 2000)

With Hank Roberts

With Herb Robertson

With Samo Salamon

  • Duality (Samo Records, 2011)

With George Schuller

  • Hellbent (Playscape, 2002)

With Ches Smith

  • Hammered (Clean Feed, 2013)

With Spring Heel Jack

  • Masses (Thirsty Ear, 2001)

With David Torn

With Stefan Winter

  • The Little Trumpet (JMT, 1986)

With Yōsuke Yamashita

  • Ways of Time (Verve, 1995)

With John Zorn


  1. ^ Thom Jurek. "Empire Box - Tim Berne | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-08-23.
  2. ^ Lynch, David. "AllMusic Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 2012-12-25.
  3. ^ a b Chapin, Gary. "Diminutive Mysteries (Review)". Retrieved 2012-12-25.
  4. ^ Fordham, John (28 July 2011). "Berne/Black/Cline/BB & C: The Veil". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 August 2018.

External links[edit]