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As a young student of jazz composing and arranging, David Berger initially attended Berklee College of Music in Boston, subsequently going on to study at Ithaca College, Eastman School of Music, and Manhattan School of Music, where he was one of the leading members of the jazz composition and arranging faculty until 1999. In 1988, Berger took up post as the conductor and arranger for the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, which he held until 1994, transcribing and arranging countless scores of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn for the LCO's performances.
After Wynton Marsalis took over in 1994, Berger concentrated on expanding the classic Ellington and Strayhorn piece "The Nutcracker Suite," by writing a full 90 minutes of extra music, which he seamlessly fit into the work. Berger was then joined by pioneering choreographer Donald Byrd, who wrote a complete story line and ballet for the piece, and The Harlem Nutcracker, a massive production for chorus, ballet, and full-piece jazz band, was born. The production's 1996 debut and subsequent worldwide success established Berger not only as a master Ellington and Strayhorn scholar, but as a contributor to their legacies as well.
Berger formed the Sultans of Swing in 1999, a classic swing big band whose members Berger hand picked from the best young jazz talent available. Using such brilliant composers as Sy Oliver, Jimmy Lunceford, and of course Duke Ellington as models, Berger set about arranging and composing several pieces for the Sultans of Swing that eventually would appear on the group's debut album, Doin' the Do, which Berger released on his own Such Sweet Thunder label.
In 2001, Berger accepted the prestigious position as Professor of Composition and Arranging in the new Jazz Studies program at Juilliard School of Music, where he now teaches.