Student Spotlight: Josh Berman
Major: Transfer Degree
Josh Berman chose to study music later than most, but his love of jazz and dedication to honing his craft has led to a successful career as an improvising jazz musician.
The Chicago resident spent the early part of his schooling at College of DuPage, studying under music Professor Tom Tallman and Choral Director Lee Kesselman. Those humble beginnings were the starting off point for Berman, who didn't decide to learn an instrument until age 19.
"I had never played anything other than campfire guitar chords," Berman said. "I just loved jazz and improvised music. When I got to COD, I took music theory classes and trumpet lessons -- I certainly didn't know my scales and had even less piano experience."
He's garnered national attention through his work with the Emerging Improvisers and Umbrella Music, non-profit organizations in Chicago that promote jazz and improvised music, and was recently featured in October's Downbeat magazine.
While the trumpet and cornet player laughs now at his start, he said he was compelled to learn and felt encouraged at COD. He described COD's musical diverse student body, musicians with many different skills sets coming together to play and learn.
"I remember the first time I went in to play with the band. Tom (Tallman) had all these really great classic jazz tunes for us to play -- things that you really want to aspire to," Berman recalled. "Since I held myself up to this ideal, I had a hard time doing the basic steps that could make one a complete musician. Tom was always there to gently suggest that the listening was great, but there was a lot to be gained through thoughtful practice, and that eventually turned me into doing a little less listening and more playing."
With such strong mentorship, Berman transferred to Western Illinois University, earning his bachelor's degree in social work, but continuing his study of music with more practice and networking with other musicians.
"I was always an artist of some sort," Berman said. "In high school I was a painter, filmmaker and photographer. I had no dreams of becoming a professional musician. When I started, the idea was to become a musician who worked more like a visual artist. Though I play all kinds of music, when I am practicing at home, it feels a lot like what it was in the art studio. I am glad it has lead me to where I am now. Over the past 20 years, music has opened up many great opportunities."
Berman's musical journey took years, but when he finally returned to Chicago after graduating, he met a crew of like-minded musicians and quickly set to work establishing himself as improvising musician. The gamble so many years prior paid off and today Berman plays with 10 or more projects at venues around the city.
"There's been a lot of playing recently and it seems the last record really connected with people. It's a slow process – city by city, show by show."