Clyde Bernhardt

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Clyde Bernhardt had a lengthy and episodic career. A decent trombone soloist who could play classic jazz, swing, Dixieland, and early R&B, Bernhardt was never a major innovator, but he was a talented…
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Clyde Bernhardt had a lengthy and episodic career. A decent trombone soloist who could play classic jazz, swing, Dixieland, and early R&B, Bernhardt was never a major innovator, but he was a talented entertainer and an effective blues singer. Bernhardt grew up in Harrisburg, PA. He had a rough childhood but was influenced as a teenager by music after seeing Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith perform. Bernhardt started on the trombone when he was 17 and developed fairly quickly. During 1923-1931 he had gigs with many now-forgotten bands including Bill Eady's Ellwood Syncopators, Tillie Vennie, Odie Cromwell's Wolverine Syncopators, Charlie C. Grear's Original Midnite Ramblers, the Richard Cheatham Orchestra, the Whitman Sisters, Honey Brown's Orchestra, and Ray Parker. In 1931 Bernhardt spent some time with King Oliver as the veteran cornetist was beginning his downhill slide.

The trombonist made it through the Depression years by playing with the Alabamians, Billy Fowler, Ira Coffey's Walkathonians, and Vernon Andrade. From that point on, he started getting better jobs and had stints with Edgar Hayes & His Orchestra (1937-1942), Jay McShann, Cecil Scott, Luis Russell, Claude Hopkins, and the Bascomb Brothers. After leading his own group (the Blue Blazers), Bernhardt spent a second period with Russell (1948-1951) and then played part-time with Joe Garland's Society Orchestra (1952-1970), sometimes also working a day job. He made his recording debut with Alex Hill in 1934 and recorded with Edgar Hayes, Dud Bascomb, Leonard Feather (1945), Pete Johnson, and Wynonie Harris. Most significant were Bernhardt's recordings as a leader during 1946-1953; on some of those selections he was cast as a blues singer named Ed Barron.

Today, Clyde Bernhardt is best known for his leadership of the Harlem Blues and Jazz Band during 1972-1979, a band of veterans that recorded five albums featuring such players as Doc Cheatham, altoist Charlie Holmes, tenor saxophonist Happy Caldwell, drummer Tommy Benford, and singer Miss Rhapsody, among others. When his health became shaky in late 1979, Bernhardt gave up the band (which continued without him) and eventually joined Barry Martyn's Legends of Jazz, where he remained until his death. Shortly before his passing, Clyde Bernhardt completed (with the assistance of Sheldon Harris) I Remember, one of the best and most informative of all jazz autobiographies.