Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Bernie Senensky – Jazz Pianist

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

“I could just sit and listen to Bernie Senensky play all day.”

Like the late Bill Evans, so could I.

Bernie was also a favorite of the late alto saxophonist, Art Pepper.

According to Hal Hill, a Canadian broadcaster who booked Art into Bourbon Street in Toronto, CA and paired him when Bernie on piano for a week-long gig:

“I have many happy memories of being asked to pick a rhythm section for Art Pepper for an engagement at the now defunct night club 'Bourbon Street' in Toronto. You can imagine Art's delight at having such an ac­complished pianist to work with, someone who molded his ideas so well with Art's music. That was a week of sheer enjoyment, night after night, set after set.

When Art went on to New York at the end of the gig he phoned me to see if I could get Bernie to join him. Bernie, unfortunately, was not availa­ble due in part to his loyalty to a group he had started to work with on a regular basis in Toronto. Those sessions on Contemporary Records, Live At The Village Vanguard (1972) could have been with Bernie as pianist in­stead of George Cables.”

Bernie’s style just sparkles with a lightness and playfulness that makes his solos so easy and fun to listen to. You don’t have to reach for anything; it’s there.

He composes many of the tunes he records, but here again, as is the case with Lolito’s Theme which forms the audio track for the video feature to Bernie which you can locate at the end of this piece, his music is easily accessible.

Nothing tortuously introverted, but rather, music that becomes the basis for straightforward and melodious solo interpretation and a certain gentleness of expression in the tunes he writes as ballads.  To paraphrase Hal Hill, each tune he writes “… has a richness of detail that allows for the fact that we hear things differently.”

Many of Bernie’s recordings are available in digital formats as CO’s and Mp3 downloads.

Here are some background notes about Bernie’s considerable career in the World of Jazz.

© -  Canadian Jazz Archives, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“BERNARD (BERNIE) SENENSKY (pianist, composer) was born December 31, 1944 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Recognized as one of Canada’s premier jazz artists and one of the foremost jazz accompanists in the world, Senensky’s playing and his music have been featured in jazz festivals internationally. Since 1975, he has released eight albums, two of which were nominated for Juno Awards.

Senensky began playing piano at the age of eight, settling into his interest in jazz when he was 14, studying with Winnipeg jazz eminence Bob Erlendson. He began sitting in with local Winnipeg groups which included guitarist Lenny Breau and bassist Dave Young, eventually taking his considerable talent to Edmonton.

His work leading a house band with the Holiday Inn Hotel chain eventually took him to Toronto where he took up residence in 1968, quickly establishing himself as an accompanist playing for and with a wide variety of visiting musicians including Pepper Adams, Chet Baker, Ed Bickert, Terence Blanchard, Ruby Braff, Randy Brecker, Al Cohn, George Coleman, Buddy DeFranco, Herb Ellis, Art Farmer, Sonny Greenwich, Slide Hampton, Herbie Mann, Frank Morgan, Joe Pass, Art Pepper, Bucky Pizzarelli, Dizzy Reese, Red Rodney, Jack Sheldon, Zoot Sims, Sonny Stitt, Lew Tabackin, Clark Terry, Kenny Wheeler, Joe Williams, and Phil Woods.

He has recorded with dozens of the biggest names in the business, played in piano duets with Oscar Peterson and Marian McPartland, and performed with major name bands and ensembles including Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers, Rob McConnell’s Boss Brass, the Maynard Ferguson Orchestra, the Elvin Jones Quartet, and the Herbie Mann/Al Grey All-Star Septet.

He formed his own trio in the early ‘70s, and began occupying the piano chair in The Moe Koffman Quintet in 1979 when the band was the number one small jazz combo in Canada. He had played with Moe on occasion prior to that and “was always impressed with his utter musicality and his complete mastery of the flute, alto, and soprano saxophones”. As part of The Moe Koffman Quintet, Senensky ultimately had the opportunity to contribute many of his own compositions to the band’s repertoire for more than 20 years, and continues to keep the memory and the music of Moe Koffman alive today as leader of his "Tribute to Moe Koffman Band."

The following audio only file features Bernie along with Gary Bartz on alto sax, bassist Harvie Swartz and drummer Akira Tana on the title tune from Frank Loesser's "Guys and Dolls."

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