December 2004 CJA Network Newsletter Featured Interview

Jazz Guitarist

Randy Bernsen

When and why did you start developing a love for Jazz music?

Randy: When I was 15 I heard a recording of John McLaughlin with an organ trio. I was fascinated to say the least…I couldn’t really put it into words, I just kept playing it over and over again…there was something fresh going on.

Did you study Jazz guitar formally? I know you had mentioned Eric
Clapton as a early influence! (Eric could really play the blues!!) You also
have mentioned Wes Montgomery as another influence on your guitar playing.
What caught your attention about these two great guitarists?

I took lessons about the same time from a guy named Bob Whitlock. He led me in the right direction as far as improv/tunes and phrasing. I was a practicing dude since age 12, he gave me lot’s to work on. Later I went to the University of Miami and Miami/Dade junior college. Both kept me busy.

Who do you consider some of the main influences on your writing and
playing Jazz?

Randy: Wes Montgomery and his wonderful sense of melody kept me intrigued as well as the Beatles……now we’re talking about melody….to me writing is capturing and developing that ….spark.

You played with bassist Jaco Pastorius as well as became a good friend.
Tell us how you came to hook up with him?

Randy: He was 19 at the time ,I was a little younger but we retrospectively we’re playing at the same clubs at that time. We met at a club and said he like the way I played….”Let’s play”.

Did Jaco influence your moving in the direction of jazz fusion?

Randy: Absolutely……He still is the most incredible musician I’ve had the privilege to play with. He was so gifted. The music just poured out him… a wire that had no rust on it.

Must have been also fascinating to play with Joe Zawinul and his group!
Tell us more about playing with him and the Syndicate!!

Randy: Joe…..Weather Report…….they were musical heroes for me . Improv, melodies, mesmerizing  rhythms. It was like seeing black and white all the time and then for the first time you see color. To play in the group was ….huge. Musically, since it was a lot of improv, was great. Sometimes better than others of course. As in anything you enter into it with pre/conceived ideas. Playing with Joe was a great experience. He would see me in the bus reading my Bible ……he didn‘t know quite what to do with me…we got into a few good raps….. He grew up in Austria during world war 2 and saw a bit of everything… say he was opinionated would be …..weak. I hope more than anything, I was a good witness and I defer to Francis of Assisi…(paraphrased)…“Preach the Gospel everywhere and if necessary use words!

You are working on a acoustical “worship CD” Share with us the details
of that project?

  Randy: I started it 2 years ago….and actually the idea started on a project I produced for friend which featured John Pattatuci. We,ve talked about doing a praise and worship CD…but…but…but/??? I’ve got 2 originals and the rest are arrangements of some of the beautiful melodies out there now………. glorifying the LORD.

Randy, when you aren’t on the road you play for a local Calvary Chapel.
Do you play as a part of the worship band?

I’ve been playing on and off with the Ft. Lauderdale Calvary Chapel for 13 years now. Between music gigs and 5 years of a professional pilot career, I play when I can. As it is now , by the time I get back from Italy, it will have been a 6 week adventure.

Share with us your most memorable musical experience playing at a church
and why.

Randy: About 5 years ago we had a gig at another church I played at. Son Coast Christian Community in Boca Raton. The pastor, one of my closest.. friends Chris Cowan…..put together a Christian Jazz café. He really knew and sensed that the music (Jazz) had a capacity to be spirit led…..and the café would provide a rich environment for believers and non/believers to gather. Theatre, testimonies and other activities were encouraged… was cool and for 2 years, provided a wonderful witnessing tool to the community. It was a blessing to be a part of that!

Do you find a spiritual connection in playing and writing music?

Randy: So many hats making music………hopefully step one ….writing or playing …is to be led by the spirit……..the discerning mind should not be entering yet…there’s always plenty of time later to say……”too fast, too slow, too loud not enough this..not enough that.”

What style of music touches you most deeply?

Randy: Style of music………..that’s difficult. The elements that can be found in all styles of music, that touch me are- a good  groove……..a melody………and a balanced harmony………you can tell when it all “comes together“.

 Didn’t yourecord a CD recently down in Mexico? ( The name of the CD is, “Randy Bernsen Live in San Miguel De Allende” and the opening song is a
smokin’ jazz fusion version of the Beatles, “Come Together”!!) Tell us
more about the recording!

Randy: The festival took place at a few different venues. We recorded at all of them. One was at a very old theatre…. the CD was recorded 'live' elements of improv, groove...hop to bop...guitar, violin, tabla, vocals, ample sample, el basso and flute.

What about Latin and Afro-Cuban music? You live in Miami… there is a
lot of that style of jazz being played there. Who stands out in that style to
you personally?

Randy: It’s amazing down in Miami and I’m guilty of not going down there enough to absorb it. Thru out the years I’ve worked with lot’s of Latin instrumentalists…they/we have fused, amused etc that explosive art form….it’s another language (literally) I can only hope some of it by osmosis and proxy have rubbed off on me.

Besides playing with your own band you recently have been on tour with
the Jaco Pastorius Big Band! Big Band and Fusion Guitar…now that’s a
different twist!!

Randy: Yes……what a twist. Some of the band members have played together for 30 years plus. I remember playing with them and Jaco when I was 17. The band at the time would back up artists from Charo to Frank Sinatra. I remember Jaco asking to borrow my guitar one time for a short road gig with Franki Valli and the four seasons!….”who knew” A new record is being put together now to be recorded next year.

What Jazz artists are you currently listening to these days?

Randy: I still get that “surprised feeling” listening to Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis…..then there’s Joe Zawinul,…Wes M………..and the hits keep coming!
What is your favorite church hymn and why?

Randy: Amazing grace……………..did you ever notice whenever it’s played …..there’s a kind of reverence, a hush that makes itself known.

Share with us a verse or passage from the Bible that has helped shape
and influence your outlook on playing music.

Randy: Ps 46:10   Be Still and know that I am God……….. It’s a command , a calling , a plea to man from their creator to #1 above all else…..know God……… and to know God He gives us a clue, a door……cease worldly activities so you can hear the still small voice.

 More information on Randy Bernsen can be found on his website: