South Florida guitarist Randy Bernsen started his recording career in an unorthodox way, calling a collection of jazz/fusion luminaries who, even to his surprise, agreed to be a part of his 1986 debut album Music for People, Planets & Washing Machines. After recruiting fretless bass giant and fellow South Florida resident Jaco Pastorius and getting a return call of interest from keyboard virtuoso Herbie Hancock, it was easier to interest keyboardist Bob James and drummer Peter Erskine. Released on MCA's Zebra label, the album earned Bernsen write-ups in Down Beat and Guitar Player magazines and appeared to start a flourishing career. Bernsen's follow-up, 1987's Mo' Wasabi, was even better, as his initial all-stars were joined by saxophonists Wayne Shorter and Michael Brecker, bassist Marcus Miller, drummer Steve Gadd, and harmonica legend Toots Thielemans. More positive press from JAZZIZ and USA Today followed, but when the 1988 album Paradise Citizens didn't attract the same attention despite the same dazzling roster, Bernsen's tenure with Zebra was finished. No one knew at the time that the guitarist -- who excelled whether playing clean-toned lines or mimicking keyboards, saxophone, or steel drums on his guitar synthesizer -- would never release a major-label solo album again. Part of it seemed purposeful, as Bernsen played in South Florida and toured through Japan and Malaysia while earning his commercial pilot's license and writing music for TV and (eventually) the Internet. A stint with former Weather Report leader Joe Zawinul (replacing fellow South Florida guitarist Scott Henderson) resulted in some fine work on Zawinul's 1992 Lost Tribes CD, and Bernsen's independently released CD Calling Me Back Home featured another all-star roster the next year. His house gig at a Fort Lauderdale club resulted in Bernsen's next CD, 1997's Live at Tavern 213, and featured excellent improvisation by the guitarist, bassist Pete Sebastian, and drummer John Yarling. A Mexico tour in 1998 with violinist/vocalist Nicole Yarling, saxophonist Richard Brookens, bassist Javier Carrion, and drummer Archie Pena yielded Bernsen's 2001 CD Live in San Miguel de Allande. Whether as a pilot or guitarist/bandleader, Bernsen's career continues to fly as high as he sees fit.
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