Al Bernard

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Musicians who have the same name are often mistaken for each other, yet few of these foul-ups hold the potential for such utter and complete confusion as the Al Bernard story. The two most famous musicians…
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Musicians who have the same name are often mistaken for each other, yet few of these foul-ups hold the potential for such utter and complete confusion as the Al Bernard story. The two most famous musicians with this name both hail from New Orleans, and both performed and recorded with the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. Some 50 years of age separate the engagements as well as the individuals, however. The original Al Bernard was a minstrel show performer who composed and recorded more than 100 songs between in the first three decades of the 20th century. He recorded some vocals with the Original Dixieland Jazz Band during the group's heyday, although he is not present on its very first record from 1917, considered to be the first side of jazz ever released. In the '60s, a young bassist named Al Bernard, no relation, began performing on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. He would become one of the various local players called on to keep the Original Dixieland Jazz Band going as a kind of second line performing institution.

Bernard's father had also been a professional bassist as well as working as a barber on trains. At nine, the young Bernard was transplanted to Los Angeles, where his father gigged with bandleaders such as Leon Prima and Raymond Burke. Father and son bass lessons commenced, and the success of the venture can be judged by the fact that at 15, Al Bernard got to sit in with Kid Ory at the Beverly Gardens venue in L.A. At 19, he returned to New Orleans and began working at clubs such as the Famous Door with Santa Pecora & the Tailgate Ramblers. The city's magic traditional jazz seemed to be something he felt deeply in his bones. The bassist also transformed himself into a bandleader, simultaneously issuing marching orders to aggregations from trio to septet. In addition, he became part of a circle of happy collaborators, gigging and recording in each other's combos. Somewhere along the line, an interesting opportunity presented itself which surely made the bassist think once again of his father. The Al Bernard Big Three, the trio project, was hired to perform sets for passengers on the American Orient Express Jazz Train. While his father worked both as a bassist and on trains, the son seems to have outdone him. The bassist also fronts Al Bernard's New Orleans Jazz Quintet, Al Bernard's New Orleans Jazz Sextet, and versions of both bands in which vocalist Kim Prevost augments the lineup. Bernard has also played with Cab Calloway, Al Hirt, Billy Eckstine, Mel Tormé, Joe Williams, and Nancy Wilson. He has played in the rhythm sections of Sharkey Bonano, the Dukes of Dixieland, clarinetist Tim Laughlin's New Orleans All Stars, Warren Clark's French Quarter Jazz Band, the Ronnie Kole Trio, and Jimmy LaRocca's Original Dixieland Jazz Band.