Pianist, Composer, Arranger and Dean of the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami
By Mike Clary // Photos by Daniel Azoulay
Born in Cleveland to a writer mother and a salesman father who played jazz trumpet, Shelly Berg could always see his future path. “When I first sat down at the piano at the age of four, I just knew how to play it,” he says. “It wasn’t a mystery to me. I could play songs by ear.” A child prodigy, Berg had a full resume of musical accomplishment even before studying piano at the University of Houston School of Music. He went on to teach jazz at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music while working in Hollywood as a composer and arranger and performing and recording with his own trio.
Now in his 12th year as Frost School dean, Berg, 63, is a master teacher for the Frost Experiential Music Curriculum and maintains a busy globetrotting schedule as an accompanist, lecturer and performer. His latest album, “Gershwin Reimagined: An American in London,” recorded last year with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, has reached the Top 20 on the Billboard classical charts.
What He Says
As a teacher, Berg strives to illuminate for his students “that pathway to depth” in performance. “You may be able to play a thousand miles an hour, and people will be wowed by it, but that’s ephemeral,” he says. “Can you play or sing one note that somebody never forgets?” Beyond talent and technique, Berg and his faculty instruct students in “how to market themselves, how to teach others, how to be a business, so they have more control over the opportunities they have. The message is, you can make a living at this.”