When Eddie Berger, a Twin Cities jazz saxophone mainstay, was growing up in Philadelphia, he was a clarinet player.
In his early years, he was partial to swing music, idolizing the likes of Benny Goodman. But after pioneering bebop saxophonist Charlie Parker arrived on the scene, Berger changed his allegiance and his instrument.
Berger moved to Minneapolis in 1959 and established it as a beachhead for bebop in the Upper Midwest. He died of lung disease Oct. 4 in Minneapolis. He was 76.
During the past 16 years, he had been ill with heart disease, emphysema and colon cancer. Still, he performed until a year ago. A respirator was a part of his stage equipment.
He was a towering jazz figure in the Twin Cities, said Phil Hey of Hopkins, a longtime drummer with Berger.
"He taught a whole lot of us around here about the style of Charlie Parker, how you get from note to note, how you put those ideas together, and about the rhythm," Hey said.
In the early 1950s, Berger served in the Army, playing in a military band in Hawaii. He landed in Minneapolis in 1959, tired of life on the road, touring the country. He established long-running showcases at William's Pub and the old Artists' Quarter.
"Ed was a great mentor to a lot of younger musicians, myself included," said Kenny Horst, a drummer who owns the Artists' Quarter club in St. Paul. "He was a sweet guy."
Berger taught at the West Bank School of Music and South High School in Minneapolis and out of his home.
He gave band mates and students more than lessons. "'Get there early to get how the room feels, and be ready to play,'" Hey said he admonished.
After beating chemical dependency 30 years ago, he also warned of its dangers, and that musicians were especially subject to its allure.
"You either choose life, or you choose death," Hey quoted him as saying.
Sax player Dave Karr of Minneapolis called him a jazz "purist."
"When you heard Eddie, you knew you were getting all of him," Karr said.
After earning a broadcasting degree from the Brown College of Minnesota, he hosted a jazz program on KFAI Radio for 25 years.
He instilled his performances with comedy but was always serious about jazz, said his partner, Nancy Grindland of Minneapolis.
He was an avid sports fan, fond of the Phillies baseball team. He once played semi-professional baseball.
His wife, Darlene, died 35 years ago.
In addition to Nancy, he is survived by his son, Ed Berger, of Mountain Lake, Minn.; daughter, Dawn Voelker, of Belle Plaine; sister, Kay Benvenuto, of Galloway, N.J.; and one granddaughter.
A memorial celebration will be from 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday in the Artists' Quarter, 408 St. Peter St., St Paul.