When pianist Markus Burger and saxophonist Jan von Klewitz chose to record their first CD of Spiritual Standards in 1998, it seemed only natural. Both were reared on German liturgical music, and each had a family connection: Burger’s uncle was a church organist; von Klewitz’s grandfather was a well-known priest. Their idea struck a chord with the German public, as the CD sold 10 thousand copies within 6 months of its release. It was a big surprise for Burger… but not his biggest.
“The release was November ’98. I came back from New York trade show at the World Trade Center at the time and stayed with a friend. And he saw those funny looking things on my back, and when I went back to Germany, turned out that those things were already tumors.”
Burger was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. At the same time, the demand for a tour in support of his CD was growing. That tour would wait, as Burger entered cancer treatment with the music still fresh in his mind.
“I was not able to see other people because I had so little white blood counts, that nobody actually could approach me for six weeks at that time. But I did have a digital piano in my room in the hospital, and I played more and more of those tunes. And I felt that they were incredibly opening yourself to a being higher than yourself. And I think that for me it was the music that opened my heart and my soul to that energy.”
“He’s definitely more in peace with himself. And I think the Spiritual Standards project definitely has been therapy for him.”
Cibelle is Markus Burger’s wife. They met in the mid 80’s as high school exchange students in Zeyphyr Cove, Nevada, then went their separate ways. By the late 90’s Cibelle, who is from Brazil, had moved to Sacramento and was working for Sutter Cancer Center.
“We have a mutual friend living in Brussels. She found out that I was sick. She knew Cibelle was working for Sutter, and then she called Cibelle, got her authorization that I would be allowed to call her.”
“And sure enough, New Year’s Day, he calls and I hear this voice and the accent. And I knew right away who it was. But I had no idea what he was about to tell me. So he told me he was very sick and then asked me if I could help him research clinical trials and any other information that could help him decide what kind of treatment he needed.”
Markus spent a year undergoing treatment in Germany… and when he was strong enough, he made the trip to Sacramento.
“So when I came and saw her it was just, like, the time warp. Now twenty years back, we actually get a chance now to live our love."
“We were both in different relationships so it wasn’t like we were planning to get together at all. But it just sort of happened and we got married shortly after that.”
Despite Cibelle’s moral support and expertise, Burger’s battle with cancer was a long one….after three relapses he went to Southern India, followed a strict regimen of diet and meditation, and brought the disease into remission. If his first CD of spiritual music opened Burger up to a higher power… this new release is meant to help keep him in touch with the source.
“Spiritual Standards 3, or Inside Outside, is more like how I pictured myself to have a meditation CD that I can listen for 60 minutes and quiet down. I mean I was able to be good to myself and other people are able to enjoy that.”
Of course, Burger is only one half of the duo. He and von Klewitz have worked together for 16 years, developing a high level of empathy and mutual respect. Burger says he appreciates his partner’s warm, vocal sound on alto saxophone. And his creativity.
“He takes the mouthpiece off and he plays like minutes only on this mouthpiece and creates all those weird sounds. But in a way they’re never self-serving. They create a nice atmosphere to the overall picture and that’s what I like about him."
Now that Markus Burger has beaten cancer he and von Klewitz do what they can to help others dealing with adversity. Cibelle says whether the duo is playing in Germany or America, audience members have thoughts to share after the show.
“A lot of them have told us personal stories about a family member being ill or losing a loved one, and how the music helped ‘em through that time.”
Former Sacramento-based pianist Markus Burger and saxophonist Jan von Klevitz perform tonight at 7 at Westminster Presbyterian Church. They’ll also perform Friday at 8 p.m. in Sacramento City College’s Little Theatre.
Paul Conley KXJZ News