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Last updated 2:40AM ET
February 28, 2021
Nebraska News
Nebraska News
Jazz leader Butch Berman dies
(NET Radio) - Byron L. "Butch" Berman, 58, veteran of many Lincoln rock bands and founder of the Berman Music Foundation, died at home Thursday evening after a four-month struggle with brain cancer.
In spring 1995, the Berman Music Foundation was established to protect and promote unique forms of jazz music during Butch's lifetime and into the future. Located in Lincoln, the foundation has sponsored many jazz concerts throughout the Midwest, including appearances in Lincoln by pianists George Cables, Eldar Djangirov, Kenny Barron, Monty Alexander, and Joe Cartwright; Norman Hedman's Tropique; the Hot Club of San Francisco; singers Karrin Allyson, Giacomo Gates, Sheila Jordan, and Kevin Mahogany; saxophonists: Bobby Watson, Joe Lovano, and Greg Abate; trumpeter Claudio Roditi; guitarist Jerry Hahn; bassist Christian McBride; the Mingus Big Band and many others. The foundation and the Nebraska Jazz Orchestra are collaborating on a May 23 tribute to the music of the late Kansas City pianist and composer Russ Long. Over the years, the foundation has sponsored many groups for the Jazz in June concerts, and right up to Butch's death he was working on a lineup for this year's series.
Berman's varied interests in music, however, go back a lot farther than the jazz foundation. At age seven, he was taking lessons in classical piano. An only child raised in 1950s Lincoln, the precocious audiophile had collected 300 rock n' roll 45s by age 10. He also had begun playing guitar and improvising on the keyboard.
Berman played in a succession of local rock bands in the early 1960s, including the Modds, who were inducted into the Nebraska Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame. He grew his hair long and considered dropping out of school. At age 15, he was sent to Wentworth Military Academy, where, instead of discipline, the young cadet was introduced to all the thrills and excitement of Kansas City, just 40 miles down the road.
By the early 1970s, Berman was back on the rock scene in Lincoln, playing guitar and keyboards in a number of bands, including such regional favorites as The Megatones and Charlie Burton & Rock Therapy. He even toured Europe with rockabilly legend Sleepy LaBeef. The 1980s found him in San Francisco, hanging out at Jack's Record Cellar, playing with Roy Loney & the Phantom Movers and beginning to acquire an interest in jazz.
Returning to Lincoln in the early 1990s, he continued to build a large and diverse record collection and began an eight-year stint as a jazz deejay, hosting Bop Street Theater, Reboppin' and Reboppin' Revisited on KZUM Community Radio. He also maintained his rock music career, most recently with the Cronin Brothers, with whom he performed his last gig Dec. 30 at the Zoo Bar.
In May 2003, Berman married his soul mate, Grace, whom he often referred to as his saving Grace and loving angel. Together, they traveled to New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Kansas City, Mo., and elsewhere and especially enjoyed going to concerts and dining with friends. Butch enjoyed interacting with Grace's sons, Jenom and Bahji. He also had a lifelong love and respect for animals, wild and domestic, and adopted many dogs and cats over the years, most recently cat Muggles and dog Peanut .
Butch will be deeply missed by his family and many friends across the country, and his dedication to music will live on through the Berman Music Foundation, providing enjoyment to the community.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Berman Music
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