Nathan Berg has it all. Not only does he have film star good looks to match his intellect but his musical talent comes in bucket loads! Luckily for us Dunedinites, in June 2012, he made the life-changing move across the Pacific to take up a position as Associate Professor at the University of Otago.
Nathan was born into a creative, artistic and well-travelled family in Iowa City where his father was completing a PhD in film studies. Shortly after, the family moved to New York City for five years. While his father wrote for Downbeat Magazine, Nathan started his career as a child actor. This included TV commercials (e.g. Dunkin Donuts) and the voice of Jeffy in ‘A Family Circus’ cartoon series – very cute. However, Nathan considers Lawrence, Kansas, his hometown because he grew up there and became immersed in its “creative energy”. At the young age of 15, he started a jazz studies degree at the University of North Texas. Soon, he was on the road performing as a “fulltime jazz bassist” and was offered a record contract. Unbelievably, while still actively performing, he gained a BA (Hons) in American studies, MA in mathematics and PhD in economics!
Nathan in his office
So how did Nathan end up in New Zealand? He was drawn here by both academic (the research being carried out at Otago’s Economics Department) and creative reasons. “I read about Graeme Downes, heard US rock bands expressing appreciation for the Dunedin Sound and bands like The Chills and The Verlaines, and noticed many other aspects of Dunedin that attracted me. Being in Dunedin has opened a rich, new chapter in my life. One aspect that I especially appreciate is the face-to-face contact with people pursuing many different projects. The academic community, artists and students are one part of this – but there’s so much more, which includes agricultural production, manufacturing, tech entrepreneurs, etc.”
Nathan with a student during his ‘office hour’
We asked Nathan to explain in layman’s terms about his academic research. We loved his answer: “I’m trying to create new scientific evidence that will help us all feel happier, healthier and wiser. Not like Huxley’s Soma. But by understanding the way humans make high-stakes decisions about money, food, exercise, and big medical decisions.”
Music runs in the family. Nathan’s grandfather toured with “jazz big bands in the 1930s” and his father is still playing saxophone and flute professionally. It was inevitable that Nathan would be infected with the music bug. He plays acoustic bass, electric bass, piano and drums. And he also has a great singing voice.
Nathan playing at Circadian Rhythm Cafe
Check out his music video for ‘Right Now’. Can we detect a punk influence?
Nathan has toured with trumpeter Maynard Ferguson (with whom he recorded the ‘Live at Ronnie Scotts’ album in London) and played with an impressive list of jazz royalty: Clark Terry, John Scofield, Bernadette Peters, Chaka Khan, Bill Stewart, Larry Goldings, Peter Bernstein, Joe Morello, Alan Broadbent and many others.
It’s no wonder that he was snapped up by jazz band Philtre who have a residency at Circadian Rhythm Cafe every Friday night (5:30 – 8:30). He has also recently performed as a solo artist at Queens Bar and at a Sunday Porch Session for Operation Underground. This Sunday afternoon, he will be performing at Inch Bar (Opoho) and we intend to be there.
Philtre. From left: Phil Lyons (guitar, tenor sax), Nathan Berg (electric bass), Kevin Finigan (drums).
So, if you want to be taught economics by a charismatic musical genius, take BSNS104 at Otago in the second semester next year.