Sometimes a traditional jazz tune just ends with a sudden stop, maybe a single tap on a choked cymbal.
That's the way Don "Doggie" Berg left us on June 25. Berg, an internationally admired drummer, died of an apparent heart attack while taking his morning walk in River Falls, Wisc. He was 78.
The previous evening he was in his usual form at Bennett's Chop and Railhouse in St. Paul, keeping time with the Bill Evans New Orleans Jazz Band, singing "Winin' Boy Blues" and cracking wry jokes during the band's monthly gig. The place was packed with regulars; Andy Moore, visiting from Boston, sat in on clarinet, joining Tony Balluff. Doggie's wife, Mimi Trudeau, did her New Orleans-style "second line" dance with a parasol. Doggie announced that it was their 20th wedding anniversary. The concert ended, as always, with Berg's cowbell capping the Mariachi tag on "We'll Meet Again."
Comforting each other as the news spread the next day, friends would reflect that it was a fine way to go. But then they would acknowledge that Berg's death leaves a void.
Berg had been a regular member of the Bill Evans band since it grew out of the Hall Brothers New Orleans Jazz Band in the early 1990s, around the time the Emporium of Jazz closed. He also played with the Pontchartrain Owls in New Orleans, the Happy Pals in Toronto, and the New Orleans Stompers in Madison, Wisc., among others.
His association with the Hall Brothers band had roots going back more than 50 years. He and Charlie DeVore, who was to become the Hall Brothers' cornetist, got acquainted in a New Orleans paddy wagon in January 1957. DeVore, from St. Paul, and Berg, from Wisconsin, who hadn't met before, were caught jamming with Kid Thomas Valentine, Punch Miller and other black musicians and arrested under an obscure New Orleans statute that prohibited mixed-race bands. A judge dismissed the charges.
Stan and Russ Hall formed their band in 1958, practicing and performing in the Stadium Village garage owned by Stan's employer, Jinx Brady. Dave Jackson was the original drummer. Berg succeeded him in 1962, when the band was playing a regular weekend gig at a downtown Minneapolis bar. The union scale for club work was $13, Evans said. The band members helped Berg move from Wisconsin to the Twin Cities with his young family to earn $26 a week with the Hall Brothers.
In 1966, Berg joined his Hall Brothers bandmates, Jinx Brady and some other investors in purchasing the low-slung former Rampart Street Club in Mendota and establishing their own music venue. It was Berg who christened it the Emporium of Jazz.