Don Berner and Big Band on big band music and the pandemic


Without a doubt, the drop in events during the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the struggling live music industry hard. Despite this, a movement to reinvigorate the local music scene here in Edmonton is well underway with the Don Berner session show! In a series of big band-style performances scheduled through 2022, Don Berner – a prominent local saxophonist and frontman of Don Berner and Big Band – does not disappoint!

So what is a big band style performance?

Big band is a type of jazz performance that consists of four parts: saxophone, trumpet, trombones, and a general rhythm section that helps guide the piece. Big band is also a genre of popular music that was originally developed for dance, based on written compositions rather than pure improvisation. This makes the role of a bandleader important, as well as the group cohesion of the band and the instrumental sections.

Don Berner, leader of the Don Berner and Big Band, gave more information on the big band setup.

“‘Big band music’ is interesting in that it refers to a genre, a specific instrumentation and its variations, and an era of music…People tend to think that the era big band is the 1930s and 40s,” Berner said.

Despite the challenges, Berner and his team are ready to go, citing the inherent value of live performance as their lure.

“I believe [big band performances] have inherent value. I believe they are somehow a human imperative that demonstrates the best artistic and creative qualities of humanity in a way that many types of music cannot.

“I believe live performance is a joint activity for everyone involved that brings joy to people in a way that cannot be replicated in a recording,” Berner added.

Berner provided some background as to why students should care about public events, especially live music in Edmonton.

“Edmonton has long been an important jazz city in Western Canada,” recalls Berner. “Tommy Banks [who is a famed jazz pianist] had an internationally broadcast show for years with his big band. Edmonton had the first jazz festival in Canada and the first and oldest volunteer-run jazz club in Canada, so I think [live events] are important traditions to maintain.

Berner attests that COVID-19 has made it nearly impossible for many of these artists to perform in their home venues.

“Good – [COVID-19 has] mostly eliminated my profession. That said, if musicians were to step aside while society and frontliners had to deal primarily with [COVID-19], that’s good,” Berner said. “When you get into A-lister musicians – and when I say I mean musicians selling millions of records – they have a lot more resources to deal with that… We’ll just have to be fluid and flexible going forward for the music to exist.”

Readers can preview Berner’s music by listening to ‘In a soft tone‘, a short excerpt from their Duke Ellington show. So get your dancing shoes out and open your ears to a lot of Edmonton history!


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