Norman Bergen (born May 17, 1945, Brooklyn, New York, United States) is an American pianist, arranger, record producer, band leader, musical director, and vocalist.
Norman comes from a musical family. He is the younger son of Pauline and Sam Bergen. The largest item in their small apartment was a baby grand piano which was played by his mother Pauline. His older brother Danny played trumpet. Norman started playing piano at the age of three. Bergen’s early influences were the pianists played by New York DJs Alan Freed and Symphony Sid: Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Thelonious Monk, Ramsey Lewis, and Dave Brubeck.
Norman went on to perform in New York’s Catskill Mountains sitting in with his brother’s band in 1957. He was a band leader and pianist at the early age of 14. In that same year, 1959, he also appeared on the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon with his own band. During his years in the Catskills, from 1959 until the mid 1960s, Norman backed up many stars including Cab Calloway, Rodney Dangerfield, Jackie Mason, Dick Shawn, and jazz great Joe Williams.
While still in high school, Bergen would take the subway train to Manhattan after school to play his demos for companies in the Brill Building. During this period, at age 17, he toured with Neil Sedaka, playing piano and guitar. Norman also met two well-known Brooklyn singing groups: Vito & the Salutations with whom he performed as a member for two years as well as writing songs and arrangements for their recordings, and The Tokens. Bergen’s musical arrangements for The Tokens’ Bright Tunes Productions include records by The Chiffons, The Happenings, the Tokens themselves, and the first two hits by Tony Orlando and Dawn: “Candida” and multi-million seller “Knock Three Times”. Norman later re-joined forces with Tokens founding members Phil and Mitch Margo along with Dennis Marcellino, to form a “west coast Tokens”, touring the U.S. from 1985 to 1993 during which time they recorded two albums: “Re-Doo-Wopp” (RCA) and “Oldies Are Now” (BT Puppy). It was during those years that the group appeared in the acclaimed sketch “City Of Strangers” on “The Tracey Ullman Show”.
Bergen earned degrees from Manhattan School of Music – Bachelor’s in Music Theory in 1966 and Master’s in Music Education in 1967. It was during his years at this school that he had the honor of playing piano under conductor Leopold Stokowski (at Carnegie Hall)with the American Symphony Orchestra, a television program at WGBH Boston with composer Aaron Copland, and recording the music of composer Lou Harrison with the Manhattan Percussion Ensemble. Bergen performed with the ensemble on the original 1965 recording of Julia Perry’s Homunculus C.F., a piece for harp, celeste/piano, and eight percussionists.
In 1964, Norman co-wrote the song “Only A Fool Breaks His Own Heart” with Shelly Coburn for United Artists Music. It has had quite a history since its first recording by Arthur Prysock. There are now more than 60 versions including Tom Jones, Wyclef Jean, Nick Lowe on “The Convincer” CD, Dion DiMucci, Long John Baldry, and calypso king Mighty Sparrow. The song has attained huge success in various parts of the world including Holland where it was on the top 100 for 28 weeks and came in at No. 3 of the 70s decade. It has become a true standard in Finland as “Muisto vain jää”, with hit versions by Jouko and Kosti, Pekka Tiilikainen and Beatmakers, and Harri Marstio. Norman is currently composing material for Marstio’s next album. The song has also been translated to German, Swedish, and Dutch.
Norman’s Broadway and off-Broadway show credits include Oh! Calcutta! (where he holds the record of conducting over 3000 performances on Broadway), “Let My People Come”, and “What’s A Nice Country (Doing In A State Like This?)”. He has also conducted orchestras for Debbie Reynolds, Robert Guillaume, and Juliet Prowse. Norman was musical director for the PBS fund-raiser “Let’s Rock Tonight Concert” which featured original recording artists of the 50s and 60s including Fabian, Ben E. King, Del Shannon, Mitch Ryder, Martha & The Vandellas, and Mary Wells. He spent many years in the 80s and 90s as musical director for Tony Orlando, including a 5-year run at Branson’s Yellow Ribbon Music Theatre. He also was musical director and did vocal arrangements on the 1976 musical Let My People Come.
Bergen and associate Reid Whitelaw wrote and produced some of the most memorable disco records of the 70s with artists Gloria Gaynor ” Love Is Just a Heartbeat Away”, Ralph Carter of TV’s Good Times, Vicki Sue Robinson, and singing group Moment of Truth, whose recording of “So Much For Love” would become the first twelve-inch 45, as created by the now legendary Tom Moulton.
Norman has arranged music and/or produced recordings for a varied range of singers including Astrud Gilberto “Come Softly to Me/Hushabye” on Astrud Gilberto’s Finest Hour, Trini Lopez, Danny Bonaduce, Diane Keaton, and Tiny Tim.
Many of Bergen’s songs and productions have resurfaced largely through the efforts of former fellow co-writer/producer Reid Whitelaw, with track samples by such artists as Snoop Dogg,the song “Friends” on his 2001 Gold Album “Duces ‘n Trayz: The Old Fashioned Way”, and German duo Milk & Sugar, on their hits “Stay Around(For This)” and “Has Your Man Got Soul”. Norman was the Musical Director for Tony Orlando at the Yellow Ribbon Music Theater and has also been active on U.S. riverboats including the Mississippi Queen, American Queen, and Empress of the North, where he performed as band leader and musical director for the Delta Queen Steamboat Company. and Majestic America Line.
Norman’s latest album, his first as featured performer, is “Symphony of Love”. It contains 13 tracks including Norman’s own rendition of “Only A Fool Breaks His Own Heart” plus 11 new originals. Personnel include Nick Lowe, Anna Harvey, Geraint Watkins (keyboards), Zev Katz (bass), and Van Morrison alumni Johnny Scott (guitar) and Robert Treherne (drums), who co-produced the album with Neil Brockbank at Goldtop Studios in London.
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