Friday Jan 31 saw guitar jazz great Gene Bertoncini play at the University of
South Carolina Spartanburg in Spartanburg, SC. Starting a few minutes late at
7:40, Bertoncini played to an intimate crowd in the Recital Hall in the
Performing Arts building. He is desribed by jazz writer Jim Merod as "That rare
musician who brings an instant smile to the hippest music lover's face and
toe-tapping complicity from everyone else."
Before he arrived the crowd of about 70 sat quietly, talking to each other in
hushed, reverent tones. The majority of the crowd was of "professor age", but a
sprinkling of students were in attendance as well. When he walked in, the crowd
grew quiet in anticipation.
Starting out with, "I'll have what she had" from the movie soundtrack "When Harry
met Sally" he quickly pleased the crowd. He sat hunched over his guitar, peering
intently at the strings, his hands flowing through the chords and over the
strings seemingly effortlessly. Occasionally he would look and peer into the
audience as if to see where his approval rating was, then with a knowing smile he
would return to the song at hand. He went directly from one piece to the next,
stopping only every three to four songs to introduce the next set. The audience
obviously appreciated his skill, with several smiling knowingly at the more
complex riffs and others nodding their head contentedly to the beat.
Then switching from his acoustic guitar to his, "Rock and Roll guitar", which
looked not unlike the guitar often seen in Chuck Berry's hands (Ed. Note: Gene
plays a D'Angelico), he livened up the tempo of the music. This displayed a
remarkable ability to make the audience bob their heads along to the beat. After
soliciting requests from the audience, he started off into three of them amidst
nods and claps of appreciation from the audience.
Finally finishing out with what appeared to be a rendition of "Edelweiss",
Bertoncini closed out the show to a very satisfied crowd.
Gene Bertoncini was born in New York City in a year which he disclosed but
forbade to be printed. He started guitar lessons at the age of seven and said
that he "had a knack for it. It is a great thing to be good at something enough
to spend the rest of your life doing it." He listed some of his musical
influences as Benny Goodman, Lena Horne, and Tony Bennet, several of which he has
played with. When asked what he found to be the most attractive in jazz he
responded with, "It is the improvisation, the free element. Jazz has it's own
vocabulary, it's own dialect." Bob Patterson, Editor of Jazz Guitar ONLINE,
described Gene Bertoncini as, " A great classical and jazz player. In fact, he
is one of the few who play excellent jazz on nylon string" Additionally, he told
how enjoyable his concerts were. "It is something you should not miss".
When the subject of Jimi Hendrix was broached he said, "He was a unique artist,
he knew how to play the amplifier well. I didn't really care for his music
though". At this point he grasped me by the shoulder and spoke. "It wouldn't be
right for me to say I disliked something. He was interesting and had his own
unique way of playing the guitar..it was just the style I didn't care for." He
was soft spoken man, but the fire of intensity gleamed brightly behind his eyes.