VIRTUOSITY – The Don Berner Trio performs at the One Eleven Grill in Red Deer on Aug. 25th and 26th. photo submitted

Acclaimed jazz master features tunes from extensive collection

Don Berner performs Aug. 25th and Aug. 26th at Red Deer’s One Eleven Grill

Acclaimed jazz artist Don Berner will be hitting a Red Deer stage this weekend.

The Don Berner Sextet performs Aug. 25th and Aug. 26th at One Eleven Grill.

The accomplished Edmontonian is keeping up a busy schedule performing – and it’s a lifestyle that suits him just fine. He enjoys taking to the stage in an era where the recording industry seems to be in a constant state of flux anyways.

Performing is the one thing that isn’t changing in an industry where change has rather become the norm, what with distribution of music for starters. With the mass proliferation of music and music creators available via the Internet – it can be harder to find one’s place on the musical landscape.

That said, he is looking at perhaps laying down some fresh tracks at some point this year – but in the meantime, his focus is on engaging with audiences.

“Part of what is enjoyable about music is the challenge of it,” he explained during a recent chat. “None of us went into music because it was super easy. So you have to figure out how to enjoy the challenges that go along with a changing industry. And enjoy figuring out clever solutions,” he added, chuckling.

Berner got off to an early introduction to music – his dad played trumpet as a hobbyist and his mom was a piano teacher so it wasn’t long before he was formally studying music. He took lessons for about four years, and during those growing years, his folks urged Berner and his brother to try a number of activities from sports to other types of artistic expression and musical performance.

“My folks told us we had to try playing a wind instrument for a couple of years, for example. I think it’s a good system, because after a couple of years we were allowed to quit whatever we didn’t like,” he laughed. “It made us be exposed to something and not give up at the first sign of trouble.”

Berner eventually discovered the saxophone and was pretty much hooked from the get-go.

He laughs as he recalls the character of Richie Cunningham, played by Ron Howard, on the classic 70s sitcom Happy Days playing the sax. It looked pretty convincing when Berner was a youngster, but he soon realized that the actor wasn’t too great at pretending to be a musician during those gigs at Al’s Diner.

But indeed – there was something about the sleek, cool sounds of the saxophone that struck him.

“I think it was the sound of it,” he explains of what fundamentally drew him to the instrument. “A lot of people think it’s fairly comparable to the human voice, but some would argue that some of the brass instruments are closer.

“There are a lot of neat sound effects with it, too.”

A love for jazz was sparked during his first year in high school. And the rest is, as they say, history. Today, Berner is recognized as being at the forefront due to his striking talent.

Over the years, he has been featured on CBC recordings with the bands of Tommy Banks and Tilo Pailaz and has appeared at several prominent jazz venues including the Yardbird Suite and Jazz City festival.

He has also performed at the Canadian embassy in Washington D.C. and the Polish embassy in Ottawa.

Also, he has performed in Edmonton’s Winspear centre, Jubilee auditorium, and Calgary’s Jack Singer hall. Berner has toured extensively all of Canada with various bands, has appeared in Hong Kong (at the prestigious five-star hotel the Grand Hyatt), and over 20 U.S. states (with Chicago label Blind Pig Records artist E.C. Scott).

Ultimately, Berner is a huge fan of music in general.

He loves all kinds of genres, from rock to hip hop to R&B. And it’s that overall appreciation for the various forms music takes that also enhance his own particular style and approach to serving up some of the finest, most acclaimed jazz around.

He’s also been involved in helping to better the community over years – one such project involved teaming up with Hope Mission. Berner talked with a friend who was on staff at the Mission about setting up a project where folks at the Mission were paired up with musicians from across the community, and ultimately, they worked towards the goal of playing in a band.

The project was called Horns for Hope.

“Music provides a structure with defined goals for success – and a model of teamwork,” he explained. “Basically, I had to round up about 50 concert band instruments – and that was all done by donation. All of the repair work was also done by donation. Then, we rounded up about 50 volunteers from across the professional music community in Edmonton,” he said.

Volunteers provided private instruction and also helped out with mass band sessions, too. The program is now on hiatus, but Berner said it was a tremendously fulfilling and enjoyable project.

“It definitely changed my perspective,” he said.