Thursday, November 3, 2011

Warren Bernhardt – “Fun Ride”


© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“It is to our great good fortune that Bill Evans left us many recordings. These span virtually his entire career and they accurately reflect what he was focusing on at any given time. In case you never knew Bill, or want to get to know him and his work better, or perhaps you have already began to forget how marvelously he played the piano – please take full advantage of his recorded legacy.
Thank you Bill for not forgetting us.”
- Warren Bernhardt [1982]

It’s no easy task to play Jazz piano in the style of the late, Bill Evans.

Understanding how Bill constructed his innovative harmonies and related chordal voicings is one thing, being able to execute them is quite another.

I had been aware of a number of pianists who were heavily influenced by Bill’s approach from his ascendancy on the New York City Jazz scene in the mid-1950s until his death in 1980.

Richie Beirach, Andy LaVerne and Joanne Bracken had all become quite adept at incorporating elements of Bill’s magic into their playing as had Denny Zeitlin and Michel Petrucciani [especially during the early years of his career]

So when Bill’s long-time manager and producer Helen Keane and Dr. Herb Wong of Palo Alto Records released a 2 LP tribute album to Bill a couple of years after his death, [PA 8028-2], it was no surprise to see their names [with the exception of Michel's] among the performers memorialize him with their interpretations of his music.

However, “Warren Bernhardt” was a name that was new to me.

But not for long.



His rendering of Bill’s Fun Ride on the Bill Evans Tribute album left me awestruck. What a magnificent interpretation this was; flawlessly executed and with brio!

Although I am by no means an expert on the finer aspects of pianism [the technique or execution of piano playing], I am of the opinion that it helps to have a strong background in Classical music to play Bill Evans’ music, well.

Bill adopted the harmonies and stylings of a number of 20th century Impressionist Classical composers – among them Scriabin, Debussy, and Bartok – to Jazz piano.

A certain conversancy with this repertoire as well as the technical facility to perform it is a definite advantage when playing Bill’s original compositions.

Warren certainly has these traits in his background which may explain why he handles Bill’s very complex tunes so proficiently.

According to Gene Lees:

Warren, whose father was also a pianist, had grown up surrounded by the major concert pianists of the era, including Rudolph Serkin. Warren played his first classical concert when he was nine. When he was ten, Serkin invited him to come to live and study with him. Warren declined, because he didn't want to give up his base­ball games with schoolmates.”

Warren worked in New York with Clark Terry, Gerry Mulligan, Mike Mainieri, Jack Dejohnette, Jeremy Steig, Tim Hardin, Jimmy Cobb, Richie Havens, Liza Minnelli, and Carly Simon, and he was a member of one of the jazz "super groups" of the eighties, Steps Ahead.

I don't think he's had the full recogni­tion he deserves. Some people have noticed, though. A French journalist wrote, "At the top of the mountain, deep in the pool of great genius where Bill Evans lives, there also lives Warren Bernhardt."

You can find out more about the details of Warren’s career and his current musical activities by visiting his website.

Here’s a sampling of what’s on offer in Warren’s music. The audio track is the very same Fun Ride from the Bill Evans Tribute album which first brought his marvelous talents to my attention.