Chris Bergson is an internationally acclaimed American born guitarist, singer, and songwriter. Hailed as “the New York street poet with a blues soul” (MOJO) and “one of the most inventive songwriters in modern blues music,” (All Music Guide) Bergson is best known as the leader of the Chris Bergson Band. Elmore Magazine calls the Chris Bergson Band “one of the most talented bands playing today,” whose soulful blend of American Roots music encompasses “blazing rock to funk to soul to Delta blues and all that’s in between.” Bergson is also an accomplished sideman who has performed with luminaries across a wide range of genres including Pop/Rock (Norah Jones, Levon Helm), Blues/Soul (Hubert Sumlin, Bernard Purdie) and Jazz (Annie Ross, Al Foster, and Matt Wilson.) The Chris Bergson Band’s 2007 album Fall Changes, recorded at Levon Helm’s studio in Woodstock, New York, was named MOJO Magazine’s Number One Blues Album of the Year in 2008. Bergson was inducted into the New York Blues Hall of Fame as a Master Blues Artist in 2015.
Born in New York City in 1976, Chris Bergson moved with his family to Boston when he was three years old and returned to New York City in 1995 at the age of eighteen. Bergson’s love and affinity for music started early, as writer Kay Cordtz details in her profile of Bergson for ROLL Magazine:
On Chris Bergson’s tenth birthday, his parents gave the young guitar prodigy a pile of record albums. They included Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf’s Muddy and the Wolf, the Waters, Mike Bloomfield, Paul Butterfield and Otis Spann collaboration, Fathers and Sons, a Thelonious Monk disc and a couple of albums by Miles Davis. Bergson, who started taking classical guitar lessons at the age of seven, had just learned the modern blues scale so he could play along with Muddy and copy some Bloomfield riffs. “Hearing all that music at the same time had a really powerful effect on me,” he said.
If you listen to Bergson’s CDs such as Fall Changes and Imitate the Sun, it’s obvious that he learned his lessons from the masters well – both those he heard on vinyl and those he had the privilege to know and play alongside. But you also hear a musician with the fire and intelligence to chart his own path and resist being classified as any one particular genre. (Kay Cordtz, Roll Magazine, “Chris Bergson: Singer/Songwriter, Guitarist, Husband, Father Is Living His Dream)
Bergson began his professional career at the age of thirteen playing in Boston area rock clubs. In 1995, Bergson returned to New York City and studied with jazz guitar master Jim Hall. While attending Manhattan School of Music, Bergson began freelancing as a guitarist on the New York jazz scene. In 1996, Bergson recorded his debut album Blues For Some Friends of Mine (Juniper Records) featuring bassist Dwayne Burno and drummer Greg Bandy. “With his first release, Bergson proves himself ready for the big time,” Jim Fisch wrote in 20th Century Guitar Magazine. In 1997, he recorded with legendary jazz vocalist Annie Ross on her album Cool For Kids (Juniper Records.)
In the Spring of 1999, Bergson graduated from Manhattan School of Music with a Bachelor of Music degree and landed a steady gig at Vintage, a lounge in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen, where he led a trio two nights a week backing up singers including Norah Jones, Sasha Dobson, and Dena DeRose.
In 2002, Bergson was appointed a Jazz Ambassador of the USA by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and he toured eight countries in West Africa with his trio. His subsequent album Blues (2003) reflected his immersion in the Blues tradition, while adding roots and soul influences. The album was recorded live at NYC’s Smoke Jazz Club with organist Brian Charette and drummer Matt Wilson. Incidentally, Matt Wilson coined the name for Bergson’s independent record label, 2 Shirts Records, saying “Man, you sweat so much, you gotta bring two shirts to every gig – one for each set!” Anyone who’s ever attended a Bergson live show can attest to the soulful intensity – and the sweat – that pours out of him in every performance.
In 2004, the Chris Bergson Band were featured as Artists-In-Residence at NYC’s Jazz Standard performing every Monday night that Fall. The band featured saxophonist Jay Collins (Gregg Allman), bassist Chris Berger, and drummers Matt Wilson or Tony Mason. “We were able to really develop as a band and that’s when I really started writing,” Bergson explained to writer Kay Cordtz, ”We recorded the album Another Day right at the end of our residency. It documented the tunes we’d been playing every week, and that was really the start of the Chris Bergson Band.” Bergson credits the influence of The Band’s music for inspiring “High Above the Morning,” the first of seven original songs he wrote for Another Day.” (Kay Cordtz, ROLL Magazine.)
Fittingly, the Chris Bergson Band recorded their next album, the widely acclaimed Fall Changes (2007) at The Band drummer Levon Helm’s Woodstock studio. The band included Jay Collins, keyboardist Bruce Katz and drummer Tony Leone with Helm’s daughter, singer Amy Helm, guesting on a few tunes. The sessions led to Bergson being personally invited to perform at the famed drummer’s Midnight Rambles while opening the way for more stateside festivals and subsequent tours of Europe. Bergson is one of the artists included in photographer Paul LaRaia’s book, The Levon Helm Midnight Ramble.
Fall Changes (2 Shirts Records/Bertus Distribution) was released in October 2007 to rave reviews and established Bergson as an eloquent, evocative and lyrical songwriter with a sharp urban vision. Living Blues magazine called him “a serious talent” and Blues scholar Tony Russell wrote in his four star review of the album for MOJO:
One of the major themes in blues is a sense of place and this band lay down their local credentials in the opening track about a Brooklyn neighborhood, Gowanus Heights. The catchy melody, stabbing horns and fervent vocal also establish that these guys could strip down the engine of a soulbluesmobile and put it back together blindfold.
Fall Changes went on to be named MOJO’s Number One Blues Album of the Year in 2008 by Tony Russell, the first of Bergson’s five consecutive albums to be named on MOJO’s year-end list of the Best Blues Albums.
Bergson performed in Europe for the first time in 2008 in the UK at England’s Leicester Blues Festival. Over the next decade, Bergson’s international tours became more and more frequent, expanding his European fanbase with performances in twelve countries including Holland, Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Russia.
Notable European festival performances include Moulin Blues (Holland), Groningen Rhythm and Blues Night (Holland), Harvest Time Blues (Ireland), Blues in Hell (Norway), Salaise Blues Festival (France), Cahors Blues Festival (France), Ingolstadt Bluesfest (Germany), Gevarenwnkel Festival (Belgium), Swing Wespelaar (Belgium) and the Burlada Blues Festival (Spain.)
In 2013, Bergson began performing and writing songs with acclaimed soul singer Ellis Hooks. Born in Bromley, Alabama, All Music Guide calls Hooks “the true continuum in the celebrated Southern traditions of soul, blues, and gospel.” Bergson and Hooks met in 2004 when they were sharing a bill at NYC’s Joe’s Pub. Their collaboration over the next decade would find them selling out shows at top NYC venues like Jazz Standard and City Winery and headlining festivals in Europe including France’s oldest Blues festival, the Cahors Blues Festival.
Ellis Hooks appeared as a guest on Bergson’s 2014 release Live at Jazz Standard which included the debut of their original Stax-inspired modern soul classic “The Only One.” With a three-piece horn section led by saxophonist Ian Hendrickson-Smith (The Roots/Late Night With Jimmy Fallon), Live at Jazz Standard captured the Chris Bergson Band’s “gut-busting, horn-bedecked NY blues” (MOJO) and was named one of MOJO’s Best Blues Albums of 2014. Just days after the two nights of recording live at Bergson’s favorite NYC club, the Chris Bergson Band performed at the Saratoga Jazz Festival in Saratoga Springs, New York, playing right before Tony Bennett and Buddy Guy. In 2014, the Chris Bergson Band performed at the largest Blues festival in North America, the Waterfront Blues Festival in Portland, Oregon.
“Over the past decade, Chris Bergson has become one of the most interesting blues-inspired songwriters,” wrote Tony Russell in his review of Live at Jazz Standard for the UK’s Blues Magazine. “He describes the streetscapes and nightscapes of city life, painting small, memorable pictures, a kind of Edward Hopper of the blues.”
Ellis Hooks co-wrote three songs and appeared as a guest vocalist on the Chris Bergson Band’s 2017 studio album Bitter Midnight (2 Shirts Records/Continental Blue Heaven.) Recorded to two-inch tape at Brooklyn’s Mighty Toad Studio, Bergson was joined on the album by baritone saxophonist Jay Collins, trumpeter Steven Bernstein (Levon Helm), drummers Aaron Comess (Spin Doctors), Tony Mason (Darlene Love), bassists Andy Hess (Gov’t Mule), Richard Hammond (Santana), Matt Clohesy (Patti Austin) and keyboardist/tenor saxophonist Craig Dreyer (Dispatch). “It was great to record with some of favorite musicians,” said Bergson. “Some of the guys, like Richard Hammond, Aaron Comess and Tony Mason, I’ve been playing with for years but had never recorded with before, so it was nice to finally document the rapport we’ve developed over many gigs.”
Released in Europe on the Continental Blue Heaven label, Bitter Midnight was featured as “Album of the Month” in Holland’s Gitarist Magazine and France’s Soul Bag Magazine. Gitarist’s Kevin Passman wrote, “As we’ve come to expect from Bergson, Bitter Midnight is full of tasty, intuitive guitar work and passionate vocals but besides that, the album is also a triumph for his qualities as a composer. An absolute must for fans of blues, soul and southern rock.”
In 2018, Bergson and Hooks toured together in Europe for the first time playing festivals in Denmark, Germany and France. Their performance in Normandy for the Nuit du Blues festival, held at a stadium, the Zénith de Caen, was filmed and recorded and released on CD/DVD in 2019 as Chris Bergson & Ellis Hooks – Live in Normandy (2 Shirts Records/Continental Blue Heaven.)
Live in Normandy captures Bergson and Hooks backed by their longtime working European band. Bergson estimates he’s played over 100 concerts with the top-notch rhythm team he refers to as “The French Connection” with Philippe Billoin on keyboards, Philippe Dandrimont on bass and Pat Machenaud on drums. “Live albums don’t get any better than this,” wrote Jim Hynes in Glide Magazine, “Bergson and Hooks have become a blues-infused modern-day Sam and Dave, bringing a similar kind of gritty, rousing blues that is chill-inducing, whether vocally or via Bergson’s stinging, piercing solos (check out “Bitter Midnight”) …Bergson’s guitar lines echo two of his heroes, Hubert Sumlin (with whom he performed in his later years) and Freddie King.”
Soul Bag Magazine’s Marc Loison wrote, “Far from blues-rock clichés and guitar demonstrations in vertiginous pyrotechnics, here are 12 twelve live tracks as additional proof of the vitality and authenticity of a major artist on the New York scene. In perfect harmony with the splendid vocalist Ellis Hooks, guitarist-singer Chris Bergson is accompanied by a “French connection” of choice…Superb!” Jos Verhagen wrote in his review of the album for Holland’s Blues Magazine, “The music of Chris Bergson and Ellis Hooks is genuine Delta soul blues…The soulful voice of Hooks is reminiscent of the great soul men like Sam Cooke and Otis [Redding], and together with Chris, he turns it into a true party.”
Notable past performances include:
Moulin Blues (Holland), Groningen Rhythm & Blues Night (Holland), Cahors Blues Festival (France), Salaise Blues Festival (France), GeVarenwinkel Festival (Belgium), Swing Wespelaar (Belgium), Burlada Blues Festival (Spain), Harvest Time Blues (Ireland), Blues in Hell (Norway), Leicester Blues Festival (UK), Waterfront Blues Festival (Portland, OR), Saratoga Jazz Festival (NY), Levon Helm’s Midnight Rambles (Woodstock, NY), River to River Festival (NYC), Joe’s Pub (NYC), The Blue Note (NYC), Jazz Standard (NYC), John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (DC), SXSW (Austin, TX), and opening for B.B. King and Etta James at B.B. King’s Blues Club (NYC).
Chris Bergson currently serves on the faculty of New York City’s 92nd Street Y School of Music where he teaches Rock, Blues and Jazz guitar.
Bergson endorses McCurdy Guitars