Birthday Greetings to Tim Berne

The massively influential saxophonist and composer Tim Berne turns 60 on October 16. This is posted early to encourge everyone to go the Stone, where Tim will be in residence with a variety of groups tonight through Sunday.

In typical DTM fashion, I asked musicians to contribute to a birthday festschrift. (Apologies to many colleagues who might not have been on the email chain. If you see this and want to add on, find me.)

If had asked non-musicians as well, the submissions would have doubled in size. Rather perfectly, Valerie Trucchia (who felt like she just had to weigh in even though not a musician) ends the alphabetical order with a comment suggesting how many lives Tim touches in all walks of life.

Related DTM: Interview with Tim Berne.


Happy Birthday, Tim. Thanks for the music, inspiration and friendship.


Meeting Tim for the first time: I arrived a day late to the first rehearsal of a George Gruntz Concert Big Band, somewhere in Switzerland. The room was full of New York heavies who not surprisingly looked askance at the bemused, skinny weirdo who crept in with his mouldy Eb Horn. At the coffee break I realised I had no Swiss money so I stood on the edge of the intimidating crowd wondering how I would ever find a way in. Tim made a bee line to me and said, “you look like you need a coffee”. The most generous and sensitive person in the room by a long way because he recognized my outsider status and addressed it, and, well yes, he paid for the coffee.

On that tour we talked a lot and exchanged our music, and within hours of the tour’s end he’d recommended me to Stefan Winter which led to my 3 albums for Polygram/JMT/Winter & Winter. Tim played my music to lots of influential Americans who mostly told him to take it away and do something with it himself. Which he did. Tim put Quiet Nights out on screwgun 70007. He helped me to get Sanborn to do a beautiful solo on Life On Mars (You Live & Learn – Lost Marble 001). He inspired me: listening to Fractured Fairy Tales on the tour bus reinforced and encouraged my hope that there was an audience and a community of musicians who wanted to be surprised, challenged, amused, and even confused! I think the only example of my music I had with me was Music For The Third Policeman; god knows how Tim extrapolated from that album that I might fit into JMT’s roster (or maybe he just wanted to confuse Stefan Winter by putting an English spanner in the works).

As I said, Tim’s the most generous person in the room, but he’s also a musician. I love Tim’s music. It’s idiosyncratic, awkward, passionate, and a fourth adjective which I’ll think of later. In Copenhagen some years ago I took some students to see Berne, Ducret, & Rainey perform. After the gig the students were discussing what/who it sounded like, at great length. After a while I said, “I’ll tell you what it sounded like: three master musicians at the very top of their game.” Luckily for me, Tim was walking past at that very moment and got to hear what I really think of him. Enough said!


Dear Tim, Happy Birthday! Thank you for being so supportive of me over the years. You lead the way for all of us in your singular, focused, transcendent musical voice, astonishing body of work and dedication to your art.


Happy 60 Tim!! with love, coffee, and mechanicals from my heart!


Happy 60th Birthday! first heard Tim on his early JMT cds like Fractured Fairy Tales and Fulton Street Maul on Columbia and I loved the freshness and openness of the music (not to mention the great cover art by Steve Byram). Tim’s compositions are intricate and challenging- The music weaves improvisation with structured sections in such a natural and organic way. I also love the sly sense of humor in his playing and always admired his energy and passion in creating Screwgun Records. Tim  always had his own sound and is open to the weird and unexpected,and he has led so many  great groups through the years. He is a lot of fun to play with! Tim- I look forward to  hearing more of your great music in the future and to playing together soon again – Happy 60th!  love – Uri


Dear Tim:

Back in 1977, when we first met at your old loft in Brooklyn, who among us gave serious thought to the possibility that we would still be pursuing the elusive musical muse on the verge of your 60th birthday?!  And yet here we are on the cusp of that daunting milestone!  How lucky we are!  Not only are we still alive, still continuing our respective streams of life, but we are still playing creative, uncompromising music, still continuing the streams of artistic vision,  accomplishment, and determination that so inspired us to head in this treacherous but, in its weird way, glorious direction.  So happy Continuation Day!  Thank you for keeping the fire going and for making so much distinctive and daring music.  Thank you for being such a skillful bandleader that you are able to so generously and effectively inspire and create space for so many willing and capable collaborators to contribute to the realization of your compelling personal musical manifestations, trusting in their talents, allowing and encouraging them to grow further as artists themselves .  Although it’s been ages since we made any of it together, some of it remains some of the favorite music-making experiences I’ve had the privilege and pleasure of sharing over the years.  All the best to you as you step into another open vista of life and music.  I pray that continued inspiration, good health, diligence, happiness, and peace may grace the decades ahead.  Life is fleeting, precious, and miraculous; may you wisely navigate it and deeply enjoy it for many more wonderful years to come.

A deep bow to you,

Alex Cline


60! What an accomplishment on so many levels! You are a constant source of inspiration- thank you for your music and dedication.


i didn’t really know tim’s music until we started playing together.. i mean, of course i had heard his name in college at some point and i think i heard a record with him / ducret / rainey playing together.. when we first started getting together, i talked with a friend of mine (who’s been a fan of TB’s for a long time..) and asked him what i should listen to, so i could be prepared, i guess.. he gave me three records (but i can’t remember which ones – maybe fulton maul was one of them…) the one i listened to had joey baron and hank roberts – can’t remember if ducret was on there, too.. i listened to the whole thing, but decided i wasn’t really gonna seek out any other records – realizing that i had an opportunity to learn his music directly from him. since then we’ve had lots of duo sessions, played trio with dave king, dan, tyshawn, tom and ches, played quartet with mike / ches, joining snakeoil on occasion, being part of the septet (snakeoil + weiss / formanek), and the band with craig / ches / david torn.. its been feeling good to be part of all this – thanks, tim.

AND happy birthday!


Happy 60th Birthday Tim – Just making it to 60 is enough of a milestone to celebrate when you think about all of the great artists who did not. What’s really important though, is what you do with the time you have. In his case it’s definitely about the recordings, and the tours, the compositions, and the music itself, but it’s also about what he sees and what he hears in the people he meets and chooses to collaborate with. It’s about the forces he sets in motion once he gets an idea, and how quickly he’s already taken action on some insane sounding project that other people, myself included, aren’t even sure he’s serious about. I’ve witnessed and been fortunate to play a part in many of those projects over the past twenty-four years, since we were both in our thirties! There were countless numbers of events during that that I could talk about, but what’s most amazing to me is how much he continues to grow as a musician and how much humility he has about what he does that enables him to have that extremely rare balance knowing exactly what he’s doing with his music and where he wants to take it, and that completely open, curious, and receptive mind, always willing and anxious to learn something new. It’s part of what’s made him a force in music for all these years. That fierce and rugged individualism, and completely unique perspectives in his music are all his trademarks, along with his equally unique and particular sense of humor! It’s also what’s made him what I commonly refer to him as the “best sideman ever”! Learns the music, wants to rehearse, doesn’t bitch about anything, except the occasional F-flat or E-sharp on a poorly edited Sibelius part, and is always there to play the music. Positive, focused…and just so damn punctual! It’s been a wild few years getting to know Tim, and I’m extremely grateful to be able to call him one of my all time closest friends. But he’s also been a huge influence on me musically and personally, and I’ll go so far as to say that if we hadn’t met when we did my entire musical world would have a much different landscape than it does now. For better or worse, I can’t really say, but most definitely different. I can say with complete confidence though, that I’m really happy that they worked out the way they did!

Thanks Tim, for all the music, for all the inspiration, for all the support, for all the laughs and great times, and for all the friendship – Happy 60th, my brother! I can’t wait to hear what you’ll be doing at 70!


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Happy 60th, Tim. You’re a great friend and musician, and you have the best jump shot I’ve never seen.


Happy 60, Tim. I can’t believe it’s been 16 years since I first saw you perform live with Bloodcount at the Knitting Factory’s Old Office. You have been an enormous influence on me as a person and as a musician, and your music continues to inspire me today just as much as it did back then. Thanks for being a wonderfully generous friend, collaborator, vacation adviser, and comedian. H&H…. Mary


Hi Tim……..It’s Dave…….wanna get a coffee?………I really love you and your music and your parties and your house and your wife (sorry) and your “get down to the lobby” wake up calls and the fact that no one is as funny as you. No one. Your fierce tone and gentle soul is the secret to your mysterious, awesome music I think.

With great love and respect happy 60th birthday Tim,

Dave King


For Tim on his 60th Birthday

I could write at great length about what Tim Berne means to me:

as an instrumentalist who possesses a unique combination of singular identity and capacity for reinvention and openness;

as a composer who continually searches and expands his approaches while constantly chiseling away to reveal things;

as a bandleader who has allowed and required that I be completely myself in the context of his music, and indeed afforded me the chance to fully grow into myself, musically speaking, just as he has done for dozens of musicians before me;

as an inspiring example of a tireless yet sensible work ethic;

as friend who is as genuine, generous, supportive, loyal, and hilarious as anyone I’ve ever had the privilege to call a friend.

I’ll stop here, though, for as the man himself says: “Always leave them wanting less.”

Happy 60th Birthday, Tim. Thank you is not even close to enough.


Tim, I’m really looking forward to getting to know you, personally and musically, during these Sci-Fi hits. Happy 60th and may there be many more to come!


Happy Birthday Tim

Working with Tim is both a pleasure and work. His music is challenging and engaging to play, consistently pushing one to play something new. He inspires me not only to work hard on my music but to remember to stay young.



60! Holy crap, that is OLD. Man, not being anywhere near that age I can only guess how that must feel. So sorry.

I suppose there’s only your memories left eh? And we had some killer ones from all those years with Chaos Totale, didn’t we? Too bad it’s all over now, but it was great! I remember everything.

Remember when we all overslept at that weird high security hotel? Very nearly missed the train, lucky Swell was on the case and woke us all up, as usual! Remember when the guy didn’t show up to take Dresser’s bass case off our hands before our flight and we had to cram it in the trunk of a tiny taxi? Mark was having kittens. I have the photo somewhere. How about when we were on that 12 hour train ride through Italy with no dining car, and the Duke jumped off the train in Verona to get sandwiches for everyone in the 9 minutes we were supposed to be stopped there? He would have been a hero, except he took 10 minutes and the train was gone when he got back. You eventually forgave him because he was so hungry, and,well, because he IS French, after all (man, that guy would eat ANYTHING, absolutely no standards).

Remember when you won the Pulitzer, the Grammy, and even the National Book Award (we never did figure that one out!) for Nice View (with a special mention of my drum part on ‘Third Rail’)? Fun times! You’re welcome.

How ’bout when we opened for Sting at the Hollywood bowl and they went totally crazy for Herb’s extended trumpet techniques, so much so that they booed Sting when he came on and then chanted ‘More Chaos, More Chaos’ for 15 minutes until we came back for 2 more encores? I mean, Sting had to be PC about it, because he’s Sting, but we could tell he was PISSED. Many laughs later at the hotel.

Well old pal, those were the days. I hope your retirement will go well. You can always look back and say, yes that was me, I once had a band that played the Super Bowl halftime show one night, (as I remember, Marc had his own wardrobe malfunction that day, YEARS before Janet) and the Unterfahrt the next, and sold out both!

How many people can say that?

Ok, gotta go, they are calling me in to dinner. Creamed corn tonight! And I think they are showing another Mickey Rooney film!

Hope we get to hang again some day. Our recreation periods are Tuesdays and Thursdays between 2:30 and 4 (or is it Wednesdays after 6)? Bring your tenor.




That went fast ….. Happy birthday Tim!


Happy 60th Tim!

Thanks for 33 years of playing music together!  Always amazing.  Looking forward to the next 33 years of playing music together.  Enjoy your birthday and see you around real soon!


I wrote this while sitting across from Tim on the plane two days ago:

60 Tones for Tim Berne


Tim Berne should get more credit for the ways in which he champions/mentors/assists so many musicians on the scene. I’ve never encountered anyone so selfless in that regard. There would be distinctly less of a communal feeling around here if he were not around. His humor and intelligence holds us together.

Happy Birthday, Tim. Let’s take it all the way out.


Tim Berne is a hilarious cat, ingeniously self deprecating, and definitely uncomfortable if he’s reading this blog.  I wanted to write something comedic for him, or a roast that he would enjoy, but since I’m feeling nostalgic, and not naturally a funny storyteller, I’m going for heartfelt.

In 1992 I moved to NYC… and luckily was home when my roommate Jim Black was jamming with Tim in the basement one day. He invited me to come down to read some of his tunes, and then invited me to join a trio he was trying out with Jim and Mike Formanek, and that was the beginning of Bloodcount.  Looking back, I am in awe that Tim even bothered to work with me, there were so many musicians who were better, more experienced, etc.. Tim choosing to work with me says a lot about his willingness to take chances and not make the obvious move, his intuition was that the ‘odd’ combination was a good match for his music. In any case, I felt like I had won the lottery, hooking up with Tim is probably the most important connection of my musical life, a mentorship with one of the icons of new improvised music and the opportunity to participate directly in the insane journey his music takes you on.

Tim would joke that playing with him would make one unemployable, or apologize for “killing my career”. Which if there is any reality to that imagined scenario, to comparing having a professionally oriented jazz sideman career vs. getting to play, tour, record, and hang with Tim Berne, there is still no contest:-)

Thanks Ethan for the Tim Berne appreciation post, and Happy Birthday Tim.


From the Walker in ’87 through countless train adventures to happy hours at farm you have always been and continue to be a huge inspiration and great friend. Thank you for all of it.

I think 60 was the old 80.

Happy Birthday Tim!


so, waitupwaitupwaaaituuuuup:
the undeniable Tim Berne, our looming maestro & steady generator of impossibly edifying vibe, is 60!
congratulations, tim….. long life, health, brilliant home-life, comfort, great coffee & single-malts etc etc etc to you.

i could say all kinds of abundantly & luminously true things about tim’s musical genius,
about his body-of-work, his meaningful tenacity,
his ongoing hub-like activities which’ve brought (& continue to bring) so many musicians together & so fruitfully,
his intense & continuously proliferate encouragement (as well as his embodiment!) of the quite freaking real commitment to personal & musical integrity & on & on & on & on…..
but, i’ll go no further with that, right now.

a few years ago, it came as a surprise to me to discover that, among my sons & their families, tim is generally known as Uncle Bear.

i suppose that the “Bear” part is obvious, eh?, but the “Uncle”-bit is more key:
that there was, among them, a broad recognition of their perceptions that tim was a “family member”, somehow, and that he & i were that close, rang a recognizable note.

the fact is: i love tim.
i don’t mean in that beneath- maudlin,  bullshitty-“bro’s”, “i love you, man!”  kinda way, i simply mean it:
i love the guy, and….. he’s been one of the very best of friends to me during this weird-bit-of-a-life.

happy b-day, ta!



I am not a musician, but am a friend and the wife of Oscar Noriega. I wanted to write something because for years Tim has been sending me his pictures mostly taken with his iPhone, always captivating and surprising me. His images are as astonishing as his music, with his unique eye they take you to unexpected places. I am very lucky to be able to see and hear Tim’s world that close, thank you and happy birthday Tim.