When it comes to expressions of culture, music is one of the most powerful tools available to mankind. Musical genres from around the globe speak to the unique facets of an entire country, a region, or even a single religious or ethnic group. Country music in the United States is the perfect example. When it comes to Creole cultures around the globe, the soulful rhythm of jazz serves as a unifying force.
Over time, several jazz greats have made an impression on the genre. Some have left an indelible impression, while others have quietly contributed to the continued growth and love of jazz around the world. James Bergeau is just one such artist.
Product of a Sleepy Town
Bergeau was born in Baraderes, Haiti on 12 October, 1980. The quiet town of just 32,000 people has no shops and no hotels, and has an economy that survives on subsistence farming.
The area is accessible only by road on a dirt trail, that requires a four-wheel drive vehicle. From this quiet seaside location, Bergeau emerged with a talent for the guitar that was evident at a young age.
Gifted, and Educated
Some people are born with the raw talent to perform athletically or have minds suited for academic success. Other people achieve great things through perseverance and hard work. Bergeau’s natural talent saw him start playing the classical guitar at the age of 11. When he was 18, he found a true passion playing guitar in improvised musical styles such as jazz, fusion, blues, rock, and even gospel.
Rather than relying solely on his God-given talent, Bergeau pursued an education in music.
His musical academic experience began at Adventist University of Haiti. Founded in 1921, the school offers a variety of educational programs, including musical programs that help students learn standard notation and instruments such as the guitar.
Bergeau’s education included participation in numerous seminars at the National School of Arts and Trades in Haiti, a facility that was devastated by the 2010 earthquake that destroyed much of the capital city of Port-au-Prince. He also holds a Bachelor of Law and Economic Sciences from the State University of Haiti.
Discovered for the First Time
When Bergeau was just 22 years old, he met legendary Haitian saxophonist Thurgot Theodat. A native of Port-au-Prince, Theodat had already spent decades perfecting his craft. Theodat had discovered his own love of jazz in 1981 while attending university in Paris, France. He was so fond of the music that he purchased a saxophone and taught himself to play. By the time he crossed paths with the young Bergeau, Theodat had already made an impact in jazz in his local community in Haiti, and performed in the United States and other locations around the globe.
In Bergeau, Theodat clearly saw another young artist who was largely self-taught, and who had the ability to raise the level of jazz music. Bergeau began performing as a part of the Thurgot Theodat Band.
Discovered at Home in Haiti
Bergeau’s first appearance in a major music festival came at the Nuit Magique de la Guitare, organised in Haiti by Radio Metropole. Following his performance there and his partnership with Theodat’s band, Bergeau has performed throughout the Caribbean and in the United States. His major appearances include a performance with Theodat’s group in June 2014 at the Black Nights Festival in French Guyana and in December 2014 at the Jazz Festival of Pointe-a-Pitre in Guadeloupe.
Of course, for a young man of Haitian decent, the crown jewel is an invitation to your home nation’s premier jazz festival. In January 2015, Bergeau was invited to perform at the Jazz Festival of Port-au-Prince in his home nation. He joined a list of talented and world renowned musicians from places such as France, England, Spain, the United States, and Trinidad, when he took to the stage at the Jazz Festival in 2015.
Representing the Soul of a People
It hasn’t been an easy road for the guitar in jazz. Guitars were the last instruments introduced to the jazz genre, and were often drowned out by the larger presence and booming sounds of the saxophone and trumpet. Thanks to early pioneers who proved that the guitar had a role to play in jazz, young talents like Bergeau can perform in a truly soulful and uplifting genre that represents creole people from nations around the world.
Bergeau is proof that naturally gifted artists can thrive and succeed. He is also proof that young artists can carry the torch in a genre that was once viewed by some as belonging to a different generation. Thanks to up and coming performers like Bergeau, the world gets to hear one of its finest musical art forms, with a little bit of flair that only a talented guitarist can bring to the scene.