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Peter Bernstein Talks About ‘What Comes Next’




Part 1 of the Jazz Guitar Today video interview, Peter Bernstein talks about his start, his influences, and how he approaches certain gigs.

Bob Bakert, Editor of Jazz Guitar Today: Peter Bernstein plays beautifully. His phrasing is stellar, his tone is exactly what you wish for, and he plays with the who’s who of artists and colleagues. He has a great career advancing the “flame” of Jazz guitar and… he is a hell of a nice guy! We talked about a lot of subjects starting with one of his biggest influences, the great Jim Hall.

Excerpts from the interview – for full interview, see videos parts 1 & 2.

Bob: Jim Hall was a big influence on you coming up. The New York Times said about you, “he has a full breath command of his instrument… his biggest asset is his crisp understanding of simplicity”. Jim Hall would be proud of that accolade.

Peter: All the things that Jim Hall was about were things that through his example became important to me, so I was very lucky to just hear his records, but then getting to be around him and a little bit as a student and then getting to play with him and some situations. Just to get that close to someone who’s such a, I don’t want to say icon because that’s kind of a, he’s just an individual. His musical persona is wrapped up in his humanity. That’s kind of what it’s about.

Jim was an unselfish person. He really played to make the person he was playing with sound their best. That came from a generosity of spirit rather than only having a good voice leading. There’s a lot to steal from Jim in terms of actual things he does, but to realize that the greater fixture of it was about his pure generosity as a musician and just wanting to make the overall sound as strong as possible.

Bob: When I hear you play, I hear a lot of people play. I don’t just hear you. Actually, I say this about all my favorite players – I don’t hear you playing the guitar here, I hear you playing music.

Peter: Well, yea, I was lucky to get into jazz through the guitar, but then quickly became completely taken with the whole history of jazz, all the instruments, all the saxophone players, the piano players, the arrangers, the big bands, the vocalists, the whole thing… So it quickly went beyond the guitar, or not beyond, but just the guitar was part of a lot of the music that I love. So I was getting into the music and learning it, trying to absorb it as a language, regardless of the instrument that was playing it. In fact, I always recommend it to any students that transcribe, don’t transcribe just your instrument – take something from another instrument. See if you can figure out where the guitar player is. Oh, he played it in this register and he did this kind of picking. See if you can get very close to how they did it.

On Wes Montgomery

Peter: Wes was the first guy that was playing what we would call straight-ahead jazz. He just blew my mind because I could hear it. ‘Smoking at the Half Note” was the first record I heard… and then some stuff with Jimmy Smith… and then the blues – I could hear they were playing the blues form, but there were all these other flavors – all these other flavors and sounds, and designs and patterns and colors and all these things that were not the blues scale. Wes was the first one and I just immediately gravitated towards just his emotion and intensity. It was the coolest and such a joy.

Smoke Sessions Records: Guitarist Peter Bernstein emerges from quarantine
with a new album, What Comes Next
Featuring Sullivan Fortner, Peter Washington, and Joe Farnsworth
The opportunity arose when New York’s legendary Sear Sound studio reached out to Smoke Sessions about the possibility of attempting a responsible recording date. The label quickly sprang into action developing a plan to test everyone in advance and then to adhere to social distancing while in the studio. “We all kept our masks on,” Bernstein recalls, “It felt a little strange at first, but I’m just thankful for the chance to try and create something with musicians I love. It was such a beautiful day.”

The timing was especially fortuitous as three months of isolation had given Bernstein plenty of opportunity to compose some new music. Two of the pieces on What Comes Next were written in quarantine: the title tune, which feels like a tentative but optimistic waltz into a an undetermined future; and the melancholy “Empty Streets,” which reflects the unsettling feeling of living in one of the most hectic and densely populated cities on the planet and finding it devoid of its usual humanity.

Bob: In NYC you stay busy with all the heavy cats. Between Smoke and the Vanguard, I see you with Bill Stewart and, Larry Goldings and all these guys – that’s a very envious place to be. Could you talk a little bit about those experiences?

Peter: Well, in the case of, playing with Larry and Bill, it’s just been something we’ve been able to keep doing over more than 30 years, which is just an amazing thing! It was really fun when we first got together and we’re kind of getting our little repertoire together and playing kind of steadily. We played every week at a place called Augie’s Moke. And Larry had his little keyboard/organ kind of rig with a bass thing. Before he ever really knew how to play a real organ, he was doing lots of gigs on this thing. Just make music out of anything that has keys. So right away, he and Bill hit it off. And because Larry and I had been playing with a bunch of different guys. I knew Bill from when I went to college a couple of years before. So when the three of us got together, it just felt really nice. We were able to keep going and early on, we got a chance to make a recording. Once we made a recording, I guess we’re a group, I guess we’re a band… So we just kept it together through many years… sometimes not playing that much and sometimes playing a lot more. But it’s just the chemistry. Larry’s one of my oldest musical friends and I met Bill shortly after. And they have such great chemistry together too. They started playing with Maceo Parker around the time we started playing, making our first record. So they had other associations and they played with Scofield together after that.

Part 2 of the Jazz Guitar Today video interview, Peter Bernstein discusses his tone, his new album ‘What Comes Next’ and saving cats from a burning building.

More Peter Bernstein…

Peter on recording ‘What Comes Next’

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