Tim Berne

Tim Berne

Photo by Matt Brown
Background information
Born (1954-10-16) October 16, 1954
Genres Avant-garde jazz
Occupation(s) Musician
Instruments Saxophone
Years active 1979–present
Labels Empire, Soul Note, Columbia, JMT, Screwgun, Thirsty Ear, Clean Feed, ECM
Associated acts Julius Hemphill, BB&C, Big Satan, Bloodcount, Miniature, Michael Formanek, Paraphrase, Snakeoil, Nels Cline, Buffalo Collision, Ethan Iverson, Ches Smith, Hank Roberts, Jim Black, Mr. Rencore, Ananda Gari, Alessio Riccio, Science Friction, The Shell Game, Craig Taborn

Tim Berne (born 1954) is an American jazz saxophonist and composer.

Described by critic Thom Jurek as commanding "considerable power as a composer and ... frighteningly deft ability as a soloist",[1] Berne has composed and performed prolifically since the 1980s. His mainstream success has been limited – Berne recorded two albums for Columbia Records – but he has released a significant body of work over the decades spanning dozens of critically acclaimed recordings.[2]


Though Berne was a music fan, he had no interest in playing a musical instrument until he was in college, when he purchased an alto saxophone. He was more interested in rhythm and blues music – Stax records releases and Aretha Franklin, especially – until he heard Julius Hemphill's 1972 recording Dogon A.D. [3]

Hemphill was known for his integration of soul music and funk with free jazz. Berne moved to New York City in 1974. There Berne took lessons from Hemphill, and later recorded with him.[3]

In 1979, Berne founded Empire Records to release his own recordings. He recorded Fulton Street Maul and Sanctified Dreams for Columbia Records, which generated some discussion and controversy, due in part to the fact that Berne's music had little in common with the neo-tradionalist hard bop performers prominent in the mid-1980s. Some regarded Berne's music as uncommercial. In the late 1990s Berne founded Screwgun Records, which has released his own recordings, as well as others' music.

Beyond his recordings as a bandleader, Berne has recorded and/or performed with guitarist Bill Frisell, avant-garde composer/sax player John Zorn, violinist Mat Maneri, guitarist David Torn, cellist Hank Roberts, trumpet player Herb Robertson, the ARTE Quartett and as a member of the cooperative trio Miniature.

Recent years have found Berne performing in several different groups with drummers Tom Rainey and Gerald Cleaver, keyboardist Craig Taborn, bassists Michael Formanek and Drew Gress, guitarists Marc Ducret and David Torn, and reeds player Chris Speed.

He is one-third of the group BBC (Berne/Black/Cline) along with drummer Jim Black and Nels Cline of Wilco. The group released a critically acclaimed album called The Veil in 2011.[4]

Berne's complex, multi-section compositions are often quite lengthy; twenty- to thirty-minute pieces are not unusual. One critic wrote that Berne's long songs "don't grow tiresome. The musicians are brilliantly creative and experienced enough not to get lost in all the room provided by these large time frames."[5]


Tim Berne.
Photo Hreinn Gudlaugsson


As leader/co-leader

As sideman

With Ray Anderson

With Nels Cline

With Marc Ducret

With Simon Fell

With Figure 8

With Michael Formanek

With Vinny Golia

With Drew Gress

With Mark Helias

With Julius Hemphill

With Peter Herborn

With Lindsey Horner

With Hilmar Jensson

With 9Volt

With Omonimo

With Jon Raskin

With Hank Roberts

With Herb Robertson

With Samo Salomon

With George Schuller

With Ches Smith

With Spring Heel Jack

With David Torn

With Stefan Winter

With Yōsuke Yamashita

With John Zorn


  1. Thom Jurek. "Empire Box - Tim Berne | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-08-23.
  2. Lynch, David. "AllMusic Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 2012-12-25.
  3. 1 2 Chapin, Gary. "Diminutive Mysteries (Review)". Retrieved 2012-12-25.
  4. John Fordham. "Berne/Black/Cline/BB & C: The Veil – review | Music". The Guardian. Retrieved 2014-08-23.
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