STORY WRITTEN BY ROB NAGY
For Digital First Media
A musical presence on the contemporary jazz scene for more than two decades, pianist and composer Alex Bugnon is flourishing as both a solo artist and highly regarded sideman.
“What I do is a continuation of the true contemporary jazz that was thriving in the 70’s,” said Bugnon, from his home in New York City. “It’s just a continuation of that movement, which used to incorporate everything that was available — fusion, jazz, rock, straight ahead, intricate melodies or chords, but with a nice feel that was accessible to people as far as the beat or the melody. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
“The thing that continues to drive me is the music that hasn’t been written,” adds Bugnon. “It’s always interesting to me — what am I going to do next? It‘s a challenge, and it’s exciting.”
As follow-up to his 2013 album “Harlem,” Bugnon is delving into recording a collection of new releases around his hectic performance schedule.
“I’m working on very ambitious projects,” says Bugnon. “I’m going to try to do three records – one Christmas, one solo with some duets and a regular record, the funky kind of thing that I usually do. I am hoping to have them out by the fall of this year.”
Citing Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner and Keith Jarrett as a sampling of his greatest musical influences, Bugnon himself graduated from the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Relocating to New York City, where he earned a humble living driving a taxi and teaching French, Bugnon earned a stellar reputation while backing artists Patti Austin, James Ingram, Freddie Jackson, Melba Moore, Keith Sweat and Najee.
Signed to a recording contract with Orpheus Records, Bugnon released his debut album “Love Season” in 1989 to rave reviews and won a Black Radio Exclusive award for “Best New Jazz Artist.”
A switch to Sony’s Epic Records in the early 90’s led to continued critical praise and commercial success. Bugnon’s work reached the Top 40 R&B charts with the albums “107 Degrees in the Shade” (1991) and “This Time Around” (1993), the former winning a “Soul Train Award.”
Acclaimed producer and founder of Mosaic Records Michael Cuscuna partnered with Bugnon in 2007 to release a comprehensive compilation of selections from Bugnon’s discography.
One of the jazz community’s hardest working and busiest musicians, Bugnon maintains a loyal following on multiple continents.
“There are definitely some people who cannot get arrested in America and others who can’t get arrested in Europe,” says Bugnon. “Sometimes you have to choose a camp.”
“In America, it seems that the music scene has been hijacked by smooth jazz, but not everywhere,” adds Bugnon. “I’m very proud that my songs have never been chosen to be in this play list (laughs).”
“Then there is another extreme — that is the ultra conservative, ultra reactionary straight ahead movement that goes all the way back to Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. Then you have people in the middle, like me. I still enjoy a pretty big following in America dating to the pre-smooth jazz radio days. I also do well in Europe”
“My thing is that I like to incorporate straight ahead fusion, gospel, everything in my style,” says Bugnon. “I will never give into a radio formula just so I can be played on the radio. I would never do that. I could not wake-up and be happy with myself.”
Bugnon is looking forward to joining an all-star line-up at this year’s 25th anniversary “Berks Jazz Fest.”
“The Berks Jazz Fest is the best festival I can think of in the States, because it has everyone there,” says Bugnon. “It showcases lots of different styles. It’s not just one style. I think Berks is doing the right thing. It’s really a nice showcase of how music should be. It’s a very important stop to me.”
“When people come to see me, I want them to have fun and enjoy the music that I play,” adds Bugnon. “I want them to be able to hear some of the history of jazz. I like to quote a lot of older music. I tell my fans every night, ‘Thank you for being here. If you weren’t here to hear me play, I wouldn’t exist. I would not be able to do what I do.’ We create the music, but they are our patrons. So we have to treat them as such.”
IF YOU GO: Alex Bugnon performs at the Berks Jazz Fest Friday April 17, 2015 at 7:00 P.M. The festival runs from April 10 to April 19, 2015. For a complete list of concerts, venues and ticket information, visit www.berksjazzfest.com.
To stay up to date with Alex Bugnon, visit www.alexbugnon.com.