Catalina Maria Johnson

International radio broadcaster, bilingual cultural journalist, music curator


“I was in love with blues and jazz! So, it seemed like the best thing to do if you wanted to play that music, was to move to where it was born.” Gonzalo Bergara, virtuoso Argentinean guitarist and composer, is describing how he came to move to the United States over a decade ago.

Bergara had started playing the instrument in his hometown of Buenos Aires at about 11 years of age. His is a musical family, he says: “Everybody in my family plays some kind of instrument! My dad, mom, brothers, uncles, grandparents. There was always music in my family – lots of jazz, and classical music.” But at about 17, his musical world was turned upside down when he discovered the blues – “Muddy Waters, BB King, Phoebe King … it’s a long list!,” he exclaims when I ask about his favorite blues musicians.

However, his specialty today is a Buenos Aires take on gypsy jazz, the swinging Parisian-born genre characterized by lightning-fast guitar playing and made famous by its most famous exponent, the Manouche gypsy from Belgium, Django Reinhardt. Bergara describes how that musical transition came about: “I fell in love with gypsy jazz when I saw the movie Sweet and Lowdown! [the film about the life of a fictional jazz musician who idolizes Reinhardt]

Bergara’s brand of gypsy jazz has kept the sweetly intense emotions of the blues, to which he adds tango’s delicate fire, at times evoking Astor Piazzolla, the famed tango composer that he counts as one of his musical heroes along with classical musicians such as Vivaldi, Bach, Ravel, Debussy and Beethoven. A student of his has called Bergara’s style “Gonzalogy”, an indirect reference to Charlie Byrd’s Ornithology and Django Reinhardt had “Djangology”.

It’s the art of simplicated music, explains Bergara, which juxtaposes a very high level of artistry that requires intense practice and dedication with relatively easy melodies. In 2009, Bergara formed a quartet to further develop his musical vision and their third CD, Walking Home, was just released September 7. He now also spends at least a month a year in Paris to soak up gypsy jazz rhythms and to compose music, an art that gives him particular delight: “It’s wonderful to work with the architecture of a composition, play with it, paint with the emotions it creates, create something where there was nothing before.”

And the goal of simplicated music? Bergara describes it with a quiet passion:  “I’d rather the audience feel something, rather than just being extremely impressed with how fast the guitar solos are – if someone hears my music and feels like laughing, or crying, or even thinking about it – that’s the deeper experience.”

The Gonzalo Bergara Quartet will play at City Winery on September 12.

Check Catalina’s radio show Beat Latino  (On FB and itunes too!) as well as recent NPR features to explore the past, present and future of Latin music.

Comments are closed.