Bert Seager '77 Offers Up Tetraptych
The jazz pianist has a new band and album, named for a four-paneled painting.
“This is a very rich life,” says jazz pianist Bert Seager ’77, who has been able to make music his profession, and his passion, for more than 35 years. He is well-known, but not famous; he is widely recorded, but not a bestseller; he has steady gigs and is always in demand, sometimes as a bandleader, sometimes as a sideman, sometimes as a teacher. Put all these pieces together, and Seager’s calendar is always filled with music.
He’s been a fixture on the Boston music scene since the 1980s. He moved to the city to study at the New England Conservatory of Music, where he is now on the faculty, and quickly landed plum gigs. His 1987 debut album, Time to Burn, was named a “Jazz Album of the Week” by The New York Times.
Since then, Seager, who is married to former Boston Globe editor Renée Loth and has a son who works in natural resources management in Ecuador, has recorded more than a dozen records as a leader, and some others as a sideman. His extensive touring schedule has included 17 tours of Japan, playing with drummer Kazumi Ikenaga and bassist Masa Kamaguchi, and recent trips to China and Israel. And he has a number of steady Boston-area gigs that have helped him build a local jazz community.
It’s that local scene that birthed Seager’s newest CD, Tetraptych. Pronounced “Tet-trup-tick,” it’s the word for a four-paneled painting, and it’s also the name of his band, a quartet that features tenor saxophonist Hery Paz, who introduced Seager to bassist Max Ridley and drummer Dor Herskovits at a house concert. Almost immediately, the four musicians began creating new music and pushing each other in new directions.
Seager credits Paz with opening him up to a multi-tonal approach that changes how the band plays Seager’s compositions. “He plays very melodically, but in a different key from the rest of us, to create tension,” he says. The energy and adventure are audible across Tetraptych’s six tracks, including the 13-minute “Equanimous Botch,” which is the only tune Seager didn’t write—instead, it’s the sound check the band played while warming up in the studio. Despite being a freely improvised exploration, there’s a comfortable groove to the music that balances close listening and musical openness among the players.
Seager is eloquent when he talks about his life and music. He writes and sends short essays to his fans before shows, “sort of a Dharma message about life before every gig,” and says that going to Haverford (where he was a double-major in economics and music), instead of to a big university or undergraduate conservatory, “helped me become a more articulate, thoughtful person.”
Forty years later, he is always thinking about how to play and compose and collaborate, but the “why” of his musical life is clearer than ever. “I get to be around people who are inspiring and are inspired by me. I’ve gotten to meet and play for and with people from all over the world,” he says. “I am so grateful that I’ve had this life as a musician.”
For more information: BertSeager.com