Bobby Womack would play to thousands in a stadium and a handful in the dingiest of bars in the same week.
But it didn’t matter. That’s probably the greatest lesson Wayne Bergeron learned from the singer.
None of it mattered as long as he was playing live. Live audiences always prompted a musical rush, no matter how big or small.
And though it’s true that the LSU Union Theater’s audience capacity is smaller than that in Los Angeles’ Dolby Theater, none of it matters in the end.
“I’m excited about being there,” Bergeron said. “I’m looking forward to being on stage at LSU.”
The Dolby Theater is home to the annual Academy Awards ceremonies, where Bergeron played his trumpet in the orchestra when Argo won the Best Picture Oscar.
Next on his schedule is the LSU Jazz Area Showcase, where he’ll be the guest soloist with the LSU Jazz Ensemble and LSU Jazz Lab Band.
That will be at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday night in the LSU Union Theater. Bergeron will spend Wednesday conducting master classes for students in the School of Music’s Jazz Area.
But first, he has to pick up his daughter.
No, she won’t be making the trip to Baton Rouge with Bergeron. He spoke on the phone from Los Angeles a week before the LSU concert on the way to his daughter’s school.
She’s 8 years old, and the two were going to have a dad-daughter afternoon.
“It’s our time together,” Bergeron said.
Which is both fun and meaningful, because Bergeron didn’t have the luxury of time when performing on the road with Bobby Womack years ago. Bergeron was a trumpeter in Womack’s band, which kept a rigorous road schedule. Again, Womack traveled from city to city, sometimes playing the biggest and smallest of venues in the same week.
“It was a hard life,” Bergeron said. “We’d drive into a town, play there and leave for the next one. We’d never get to see anything, because there wasn’t time.”
Performers often say they forget where they are when on the road. It’s true.
“It’s easy to forget, because you’re constantly traveling,” Bergeron said.
But traveling with Womack was worth it. Not every musician gets to perform with a rock ’n’ roll legend.
And he loved performing live each night.
Still, life as a studio musician, though not as exciting, is more stable. That’s how Bergeron makes a big chunk of his living these days, performing in the studio in Los Angeles.
So, it’s these times — times like coming to LSU — to which he looks forward. It gives him a chance to meet with young musicians, help them along the way and, best of all, stand in front of a live audience.
“I’ve been to Baton Rouge a couple of times, but it was a long time ago,” Bergeron said. “It was when I was playing with Maynard Ferguson’s band.”
The late and legendary jazz trumpeter called Bergeron when Bergeron was still playing with Womack’s band. Bergeron couldn’t join Ferguson’s band at the time because he was still committed to Womack’s.
But Ferguson called Bergeron again after the Womack gig was done. Bergeron spent only eight months traveling with Ferguson, but Ferguson continued to call Bergeron for projects thereafter.
“He was great,” Bergeron said.
And Bergeron learned a lot from Ferguson. Now the baton has been passed to him, and he teaches what he knows to students in his master classes.
Most times, those students are college kids. Sometimes, they’re as young as middle school kids.
Again, it doesn’t matter.
“I’m so used to playing with professional musicians where everything has to be perfect, so when I work with a high school or middle school group, I realize that it’s not going to be perfect,” Bergeron said. “These kids are learning, and I learn something every time I’m with them. I learn something about my own playing.”
Bergeron still takes lessons. A musician never stops learning, and there’s always room for improvement.
And then there are times where something Bergeron has taught along the way may have paid off.
“Sometimes, I’ll run into one of the high school students I taught in a master class years ago,” he said. “I see them here in Los Angeles. They’re successful musicians now, and they’re working out here.”
That’s a good feeling. Really good.
But performing beside them in front of a live audience would be even better.
Which is what he’ll do Tuesday at LSU as Brian Shaw directs the Jazz Ensemble and Shelby Lewis directs the Jazz Lab Band.
Now, some may assume that Bergeron would be a natural in Louisiana with a name like, well, Bergeron. Well, in some ways.
Bergeron’s father’s family was French Canadian. Bergeron, himself, was born in Connecticut and grew up in Southern California, where he began playing French horn before switching to trumpet in the seventh grade.
Count Basie’s recordings turned him on to jazz, Basie’s big band swing orchestras at that.
“I’ve always been a fan of big band music,” Bergeron said. “My background is in jazz, though I knew I had to study other areas of music to make a living.”
Bergeron landed the gig as as lead trumpeter with the Maynard Ferguson Band in 1986. He can be heard on such Ferguson recordings as “Body & Soul,” “Big Bop Nouveau,” “Brass Attitude” and “The One & Only Maynard Ferguson.”
“Wayne is the most musical trumpet player I’ve ever had in my band,” Ferguson once said in a radio interview.
As a studio sideman, Bergeron has performed with Ray Charles, Green Day, Beyonce, Michael Buble, Seth MacFarland, Josh Groban, Natalie Cole, Celine Dion, Seal, Diana Krall, Tito Puente, Christina Aguilera, Dianne Reeves, Earth Wind and Fire and Rosemary Clooney, among others.
He also has worked on more than 300 television and motion picture soundtracks.
Still, there’s nothing like playing live, whether it’s in front of an 18,000 member audience in Los Angeles’ Hollywood Bowl or the smallest bar on the road with Bobby Womack.
Or a crowd of hundreds at LSU.
A live audience makes all the difference.