Out in Berkeley: reed expert Steven Lugerner

Steven Lugerner. Photo: John Rogers

By Andrew Gilbert

In a recent, much commented upon East Bay Express cover story, Rachel Swan detailed the various reasons why there’s a steady flow of jazz artists from the Bay Area’s relatively small pond to New York City’s teaming sea.

One fish that Swan missed in her list of the many Bay Area musicians who have traveled east is Burlingame-raised reed expert Steven Lugerner, a rising force on the Gotham scene who performs at Berkeley’s Jazzschool on Monday with trumpeter Itamar Borochov, pianist Glenn Zaleski and drummer Max Jaffe (the same band also plays San Francisco’s Red Poppy Art House on May 26).

The quartet is a distilled version of the New York septet featured on “Narratives,” one half of his ambitious debut CD, a double album that includes “These Are the Words,” a stellar quartet session featuring pianist/composer and UC Berkeley professor Myra Melford, trumpeter Darren Johnston, and drummer Matt Wilson.


Lugerner is back in town to celebrate the release of the new albums, which are both dedicated to his incisive original compositions, tunes that provide sturdy structures for rambunctious, melodically inventive improvisation.

As a multi-instrumentalist who plays soprano and alto saxophone, bass clarinet, Bb clarinet, oboe, English horn, flute and alto flute, Lugerner is clearly an artist comfortable with multiplicity.

After collaborating as a sideman with heavyweights such as pianist Fred Hersch, percussionist John Hollenbeck, East Bay saxophonist Dayna Stephens and SFJAZZ Collective founder Miguel Zenon, Lugerner is more than ready to step forward as a leader in his own right.

Among the most consistently exhilarating albums released so far this year, Lugerner’s debut immediately establishes his status as a heavyweight himself.

Andrew Gilbert lives in west Berkeley and covers music and dance for the San Jose Mercury News, Contra Costa Times, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and East Bay Express.