Prominent Composer, Percussionist and CalArts Faculty Member John Bergamo Dies at 73

John Bergamo
John Bergamo
Significant composer, percussionist and long-time CalArts faculty member John Bergamo passed away on Saturday, October 19 at the age of 73.

John Bergamo was born May 28, 1940 in Englewood, New Jersey. In 1959 Bergamo attended the Lenox School of Jazz in Lenox Massachusetts. Under a scholarship, Bergamo studied drumset with Max Roach; had Percy Heath and Kenny Dorham as jazz band instructors; studied history and theory with Gunther Schuller, Marshall Stearns and George Russell; and was classmates with Ornette Coleman, and Don Cherry and received a M.M. degree at Manhattan School of Music, followed by three summers in Tanglewood and time in New York City as a free-lance musician. A Rockefeller Foundation grant made him a Creative Associate at SUNY Buffalo where Bergamo explored the avant-garde in a wide variety of 20th Century styles, including jazz.

Bergamo relocated to the West Coast, where he became involved in learning the hand-drums traditional to non-European cultures. In 1970, Bergamo founded the Percussion Program at CalArts, where he continued to teach for the next 35 years.

John Bergamo studied percussion at the Ali Akbar College of Music with Mahapurush Misra and Shankar Ghosh; in India with P. S. Venkateshan, tavil player; at Cal Arts in Javanese and Balinese Gamelans with K. R. T. Wasitodiningrat, I. Nyomen Wenten and tabla with Swapan Chadhouri.

In New York, Bergamo worked in orchestras with Lukas Foss, Gunther Schuller, Arthur Weisberg, and Charles Wuorinen. In Canada he performed with John McLaughlin, and at Vancouver World Expo ’86. In Los Angeles Bergamo recorded with Fred Myrow, Harry Nillson, Van Dyke Parks, Paul Chihara, Herb Alpert and Frank Zappa.

His solo discography includes the percussion albums On The Edge (CMP Records/Interworld Music), and Cloud Hands (CMP Records/Interworld Music), Bracha (CMP Records), two albums with Repercussion Unit: Repercussion Unit and In Need Again, both on Robey Records. His most recent project was the Hands-Onsemble, featuring Randy Gloss, Andrew Grueschow, and Austin Wrinkle, all playing hand drums from different parts of the g;obe.

As a guest recording artist he appeared on Ali Akbar Khan’s Journey (Triloka Records), Mokave’s Afrique ( Audioquest), Shadowfax’ Global Village Folksongs For A Nuclear Village (Capitol Records), Julie Spencer’s Ask (Interworld Records) and two Frank Zappa recordings: Live In New York (Barking Pumpkin Records) and Orchestral Favorites (Barking Pumpkin Records).

John Bergamo was a pioneer, a genius, instrumental in developing innovate frame drumming and percussion techniques,” says percussionist Marla Leigh. “He was head of Percussion at Calarts and played with artists such as Frank Zappa. I have so much respect, honor and gratitude for what he taught me while I as studying with him for for my BFA and MFA. John was my main mentor and anchor of support throughout my college years. He was filled with such a zest for life, and one of the most compassionate, giving, extremely talent souls I have yet to meet. He could drum on anything, and make it sound like beautiful music.”

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