John Bergamo 1940 - 2013
Our group founder, dear friend, and life mentor.
We will miss you Guruji.
John's contribution to my artistic (and even personal) development is overwhelming to the point of being immeasurable. To be perfectly honest, I'd be nothing and nowhere without him. I consider him not just my mentor but a musical father of sorts (that, in addition to dear friend, bandmate, colleague, etc.). Almost everything I have in my professional life I can literally trace directly or indirectly to my association with John (both as a performer and as a teacher)… It's just that deep.
So as far as what's memorable, I would say darn near all of it. In particular for me though, the years traveling and performing together in Hands On'Semble with John were a very special time. This group has been such an amazing experience, opportunity, and forum for us to explore on so many levels. As far as his contribution or how he inspired Hands On'Semble, John IS the root of that band. He remains ever-present in near all facets of our work, I guess you could say it's a recipe/chemistry/group dynamic of John's creation.
When it comes to John there are so many amazing stories and chance encounters of legendary proportions throughout his career. Stories involving far ranging iconic figures from Frank Zappa to Mother Theresa, to historic events such as MLK's March on Washington and the infamous concert at Altamont, to touring Russia during the height of the cold war…John has really lived an incredibly interesting life of monumental proportions. So many stories, that in the twenty years I knew him, I'm sure I've only heard a fraction of them. Rather than attempting to tell a story, I'd just like to say a few things about John Bergamo. In addition to being a brilliant musician, composer, improviser, instrument builder, and teacher (a true vanguard in the world of percussion), John was also as selfless as they come, and so incredibly and sincerely humble. He always put others before himself, and had so much love and concern for everyone around him (I have literally seen him give away the shirt off his back). John was also at the same time tenacious and so full of life, overcoming many physical hurdles throughout the years (these alone are the subject of many interesting stories and even some wonderful compositions), always with a sense of unstoppable determination as if there's simply no other option and no acknowledgment is necessary. And last but definitely not least, John loved to laugh, live life, and celebrate life. Good music, good company, good food, and good times were always part of the equation. Of course there's a lot more that can be said of John Bergamo, but it's these character traits that immediately rush into my mind and put a smile on my face. John had a great impact on just about anyone he'd meet and he touched the lives of so many people. He was truly one of a kind and I am eternally grateful to have known him and blessed and honored to be even a small part of his legacy. My deepest condolences to his family, his friends, his students, and all those whose lives were touched by John Bergamo.
John's influence on my life is profound. An incredibly innovative musician and composer, he taught me not just about music, but more so about life and the way to be. He had such a beautiful charisma about him that touched everyone he met. He was an incredibly kind and giving person. He had a great sense of humor, and we shared so many laughs together. I feel so very lucky to have known John.
I met John at my audition for Cal Arts in the summer of '91. I was as green as they come and incredibly nervous, but John's warmth immediately put me at ease. The audition turned into more of a lesson when he asked me to play some basic rudiments on the snare drum… When I played paradiddles he asked if I could play the paradiddle in triplet speed. The concept had never even occurred to me. I couldn't come close to doing it. John explained and demonstrated. That was the first of many lights that John turned on in my musical development. I left the audition thinking that there was no way I'm getting into Cal Arts. To my surprise, a couple weeks later I got the call that I'd been accepted. I couldn't believe it. I thought I had played terrible, but John saw the potential in me. Thank you John. That was the beginning of a long relationship with John as a friend, teacher, bandmate, and a true life mentor. Thank you John for everything and for being you. I will miss you deeply.
There are no words to express how much John meant to me, and how deeply I feel his absence. John was a friend, teacher, mentor, brother, father, and band mate all in one. He was so genuinely kind that everyone loved him the instant they met him. When Hands On'Semble traveled together we always used to be in awe of how deeply people connected with him all over the word. John always had a hard time packing to leave any destination, because invariably he had to find room for all of the gifts he would receive from his many new friends.
I felt so close to John from our first meeting, which made me feel safe and welcome at CalArts. Over the years we shared many amazing times together. Studying with John at CalArts was a gift. What a brilliant teacher he was in allowing everyone to find their own voice. With John it was not about doing what he did, it was bigger than that. He enabled you to find your own way, and showed you through his work that there are no limits. Hands On'Semble is a reflection of John's "way" as a teacher and performer. We all owe John so much…
The last time I saw John he met Leo, my son, for the first time. John was so taken by him. He was so happy for Courtney and myself. So warm, so loving, so genuinely caring. I love him so much. I miss him deeply.
With more time I hope to take the Ewe approach of focusing on those amazing times, and celebrating John's life, rather than focusing on my sorrow. I am so thankful to have know him, played with him, and loved him. An absolutely once in a lifetime kind of man. A great man. My love and condolences to Janet, Padu, and Damien. Strength to all that mourn for John. How lucky we all were to have know him, and how lucky we are for our memories with him.