Monday, August 3, 2009

CD of the Month - "Gene Bertoncini & Roni Ben-Hur: Smile"

CD of the Month
Gene Bertoncini & Roni Ben-Hur: "Smile" (Motéma) 2009

The first in a new series of fundraising CDs produced in association with the Jazz Foundation of America, and the first time these two popular guitarists have recorded together. Liner notes by Ira Gitler. Entire CD was played, recorded, packaged, and is being promoted on a pro-bono basis, raising funds for the Englewood Hospital and Medical Center's Dizzy Gillespie Fund.
Gene Bertoncini (acoustic guitar, nylon-string guitar) & Roni Ben-Hur (acoustic guitar, electric guitar). Audio Mixer: Daegal Bennett.
Master guitarists Gene Bertoncini and Roni Ben-Hur's new CD "Smile" is the first in Motéma's new ‘Jazz Therapy’ series of charitable fund raising CDs produced in association with the Jazz Foundation of America. Jazz Therapy, Volume 1: Smile, will benefit the Dizzy Gillespie Memorial Fund at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center which, under the leadership of Dr. Frank Forte, has been responsible for providing millions of dollars of free care to jazz musicians.

A celebration concert for 'Smile' kicked off the release at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola- Jazz at Lincoln Center on November 3rd with two live sets at 7:30 and at 9:30. The concerts featured Gene Bertoncini and Roni Ben-Hur performing selections from their duet CD, supported by Santi Debriano on bass and Rich DeRosa on drums. Dr. Frank Forte, lead doctor for Englewood Hospitals jazz musician care program a fine guitarist as well as one of the country’s top oncologists, also participated.

The impetus for this new Jazz Therapy series came earlier this year from Ben-Hur and the late great jazz bassist Earl May, who once played with Ben-Hur regularly in the lobby of Englewood Hospital as part of a Jazz Foundation of America program. The two proposed to Motéma founder Jana Herzen that they collaborate to release a benefit CD to repay the Englewood Hospital for its generosity to the Jazz community. Unfortunately May passed away suddenly in January 2008 before the disc could be recorded. At that point, Bertoncini generously stepped in to volunteer his talent as Ben-Hur's recording partner, resulting in the formation of what award-winning jazz critic Ira Gitler is now calling “an eminently special guitar duo.”

“The combination of two guitars is more than the sum of its parts,” writes Gitler in his liner notes for the project. “The chordal aspects are many; there are percussive possibilities; and, of course, the singing melodies of the single lines. When you factor in two such en rapport artists as Bertoncini and Ben-Hur the results are sublime.”

Bertoncini, known as the ‘Segovia’ of jazz guitar, has a thriving solo career and has played on hundreds of recordings by such artists as Tony Bennett, Nancy Wilson, Benny Goodman and Hubert Laws. He contributes two original compositions to the CD, as well as offering intricate arrangements of popular songs such as “Killing Me Softly,” “Besame Mucho” and the title track, Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile.”

For Israeli born Ben-Hur, a first call NYC player known for his work with Barry Harris and for his singular Sephardic-tinged jazz style, Smile will be a second Motéma release and his sixth overall as a leader. Ben-Hur brings his substantial ‘keeper of the be-bop flame’ guitar chops to bear for this release and provides his original compositions “Anna’s Dance” and “Sofia’s Butterfly,” named, incidentally after his two daughters.

Bertoncini describes the recording process; “It was like getting together with an old friend and talking about life. From the first time we played together it was instant conversation. ” Also key to the deeply peaceful vibe at the April 17 & 18 recording sessions was the quiet presence of engineer Dae Bennett, who not only donated his prodigious engineering chops to this project but also donated pro-bono recording time at his world class Bennett Studios in Englewood, NJ. “Just about my whole family was born or has died at that hospital, “said Bennett, who was glad to have this opportunity to donate his services to the cause.

“The Motéma label, named after a central African word meaning heart, exclusively promotes master recording artists who care about making a positive difference in the world. “Our artists have that special ability to tune into their ‘heart essence’ when writing and playing, and as such create music with healing qualities, regardless of genre,” explains Jana Herzen, “Roni and Gene perfectly exemplify what I’m referring to. This music will be healing to anyone who listens to it, and for those of us who play guitar, it’s also a master course in guitar arrangement! Personally, I’m in awe of what they’ve created. These are extraordinarily generous musicians in every sense of the word. ”

The Dizzy Gillespie Memorial Fund at the Englewood Medical Center was founded just after the late, great trumpet player Dizzy Gillespie passed in early 1993 from pancreatic cancer. According to his long time physician, Oncologist Frank Forte, MD, towards the end Dizzy said to him, ‘I can't give you any money, but I can let you use my name. Promise you'll help musicians less fortunate than I am’.” And so, in late 1993, Englewood Hospital honored his request by establishing The Dizzy Gillespie Memorial Fund, which raises money to help underwrite the costs of hospitalization, diagnostic tests, and a full range of surgical and medical care for jazz musicians who are unable to pay. Today, a network of more than 50 physicians in a variety of specialties continues to provide free care to musicians who are referred by the Jazz Foundation of America’s intake program.

Jazz Foundation of America director Wendy Oxenhorn, heads up the intake process for musicians referred to the Englewood Hospital programs for Jazz Musicians. About the Foundation she explains, “For almost 20 years the Jazz Foundation of America has been the first and still is the only organization to provide national emergency assistance and long-term support to veteran jazz and blues musicians across the country. Since Katrina alone, the Jazz Foundation assisted over 4000 emergency cases, including housing and creating gigs for over 1000 musicians in crisis.” To learn more about the Jazz Foundation and its programs, visit

In the 15 years since Dizzy’s death, Englewood Hospital has cared for more than 1,000 musicians from all over the world and has provided more than $5 million in free medical care. The hospital’s website is

In addition to the musicians and Dae Bennett of Bennett Studios, nearly everyone involved with Jazz Therapy is working on the project pro bono, including Groov Marketing and New World ‘n Jazz (radio promotion), GoMediaPR (publicity,) John Abbott Photography, and Phil Tucker/Foothill Digital (mastering.) Jazz publications, including Downbeat, Jazz Times, Jazziz and Jazz Improv are donating ads in upcoming issues.
Gene Bertoncini is one of the pre-eminent jazz guitarists active today. His fluid technique and lyricism have won him international praise and accolades as the "Segovia of jazz." An eloquent and versatile improviser, Mr. Bertoncini has been heard with an extraordinary range of jazz greats, including performances and recordings with Benny Goodman, Buddy Rich, Wayne Shorter, Hubert Laws, Paul Desmond, Ronnie Foster, Edson Machado, Michel Legrand and Michael Moore among others, as well as such distinguished singers as Tony Bennett, Lena Horne, Nancy Wilson, Vic Damone, and Eydie Gorme.

Bertoncini honed his professional chops as a member of the Tonight Show band during Johnny Carson's tenure, and he has worked with composers and arrangers such as Lalo Schifrin ("Marquis de Sade") and Michael Legrand ("Twenty Songs of the Century") as well with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. In addition to an active performing and recording schedule, Gene teaches at the Eastman School of Music and William Patterson University. A New York City native, he graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in architecture. According to the New Yorker magazine, "Bertoncini is an affecting, highly original guitarist how moves easily back and forth between classical and jazz guitar." Find Gene Bertoncini's solo recordings online at and
Respected internationally as one of the elite players jazz, Roni Ben Hur has recorded six albums as a leader and has a key band member for such jazz luminaries as Barry Harris, Chris Anderson, Rufus Reid, Walter Booker, Jimmy Heath, Clark Terry, Slide Hampton and Etta Jones. His Mel-Bay instructional book, Talk Jazz Guitar, has established him as a top jazz guitar guru. Ben-Hur fell in love with jazz in his native land of Israel. Upon moving to New York City in 19XX, his career quickly took root as he landed the cherry position of first call Guitarist for the legendary Barry Harris. His 1998 release Sofia's Butterfly earned him the title "Best New Artist" in the Jazziz Annual Reader's poll, and 2001’s bop-oriented Anna's Dance was selected by award-winning critic Gary Giddins as "One of The Best Jazz CD's of 2001." Ben-Hur's 2004 outing, Signature was a critical sensation that firmly established his singular voice as a composer and band leader and led to his new recording home, Motema Music, where he released “Keepin’ it Open’ in 2007, to unanimous critical acclaime, initiated this new Jazz Therapy series and is working on plans for a variety of innovative releases in the coming years. Find Roni on line at and
About Bennett Studios:
Now in it's 8th year of business Bennett Studios, in Englewood, NJ is proud to have become one of the premier recording studios in the U.S. with many clients traveling from all over the world to use their beautiful facilities. Engineer Dae Bennett and his associates have recorded projects for such talent as Tony Bennett, Freddy Hubbard, Earl Klugh, Phil Ramone as well as Motema Artists Lynne Arriale, Roni Ben Hur, Rufus Reid and Amy London. Find Dae online at
About Jazz Foundation of America:
For almost 20 years the Jazz Foundation of America has been the first and still is the only organization to provide national emergency assistance and long-term support to veteran jazz and blues musicians across the country. Since Katrina alone, the Jazz Foundation assisted over 4000 emergency cases, including housing and creating gigs for over 1000 musicians in crisis. Led by the irrepressible Wendy Oxenhorn, who is joined by a powerful board of directors, led by Richard Parons, the JFA is increasingly recognized world-wide as a powerful and essential advocate for the musicians.
Please visit to learn more and get involved.

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