BEST SAXOPHONIST (ALTO) - 1998
Even before he suffered a heart attack and colon cancer--and started playing better than ever--Berger was a local jazz legend, having virtually founded the Twin Cities bebop scene after moving here from Philly in 1959. A stone disciple of Charlie Parker, Berger has mentored literally hundreds of musicians both in the classroom and on the bandstand. But that's not why he's the best altoist in town. After his recent illnesses, Berger rededicated himself to his music, figuring he'd do what he loves most in whatever time he has left. The daily practice regimen (to tapes done by ace New York rhythm sections minus the horn parts) has sharpened his timing and deepened his tone. It also seems to have proven therapeutic: A late January biopsy showed the cancer still in remission, and after some shaky moments the 66-year-old Berger came through a triple bypass operation with flying colors in early February. Expect him back on the bandstand before the year is out.