A native Southern Californian, Roger Burn was a multi-talented musician; a master vibraphonist, pianist/keyboard player, drummer/percussionist, singer, composer, arranger, meticulous music copyist, band leader & music publisher. He possessed perfect pitch and began playing the piano by ear at an early age. He began his career as a drummer, starting at the age of eleven. By the time he was fourteen, he quickly picked up the piano and soon after, the vibraphone.
He began practicing two hours a day, working his way up to five hours a day, at one point. He insisted on keeping his windows closed, even in hot summers, (with no air conditioning) as he was concerned - “I wouldn’t want someone walking by on the sidewalk to hear me while I’m practicing.” He was a perfectionist.
His high school band director, Ed Wolfe, describes Roger as being verbally “outgoing” and “perhaps not too subtle” as he recalls their first conversation:
“Mr. Wolfe, I’m Roger Burn. I play percussion, and I have a question. Can you improve this jazz program so that it will be as good as Robin Snyder’s at Bonita HS? If not, I’m going to transfer over there for my last two years.”
“Hello, Roger. Nice to meet you!”
“Roger and other students would come down to the apartment and play Risk. After the other students left, Roger would always ask questions about music theory. Sometimes he would stay quite late. His parents, Ed and Joyce seemed to always know where he was and did not seem to object, but since we had a Jazz Band rehearsal every morning at 6:30, I would have to ‘throw him out’ often so that we could get some sleep,” said Wolfe.
“He was not particularly interested in the traditional harmony of the common practice period, but when we talked about Twentieth Century techniques, his ears really perked up. He learned about tritone substitutions, extensions and altered chords, and suddenly there was an interest in learning to play piano as he was already becoming quite proficient on vibraphone,” relayed Wolfe.
Wolfe recalled, “He was not interested in learning technique from the Czerny book I provided, or practicing any of the “adult beginning” pieces I provided. He simply wanted to improvise and learn new chord voicings...(he was especially in love with the dominant seventh with a sharp nine or other altered variations he could use in the blues). He wanted to learn how to arrange, so I “loaned” him my Mancini Sounds and Scores textbook. He kept it for the rest of his life...So it began!”
“I did not learn until later that he had begun writing out (by hand) a fake book of jazz tunes that he called ‘The Good Book’. He was proud to exclaim to me that these tunes had ‘the right chords’ and were not like some of those other fake books. In addition to many of his favorite jazz standards (over 150 pages), are some 20 original compositions, some of which were performed by the San Dimas High School jazz combo. “Animal Blues” was written for his friend and bass player, Rusty Houts, and “Gerswintite” was an opportunity to show off some new chord voicings he liked,” said Wolfe.
“It was plain to see Roger was a musical prodigy,” said his sister, Elaine Burn. “He would sit daily with a pencil & ruler while he effortlessly re-wrote all the chord changes in the Real Book . He claimed ‘The chords are all wrong!’ ”
Wolfe recalls, “Those who spoke with Roger often may have observed that his life was basically one long run-on sentence, with no punctuation in site! He was opinionated, biased, driven and always outspoken, but he was also fiercely loyal, disciplined, caring and compassionate to those who he felt deserved it. He also had a great sense of humor and a sense of right and wrong ...Roger was right, and the rest of us ...had some work to do!”
Wolfe relates the following story, “Another time, in Reno, Roger did not make it back to the hotel from the Basie performance at the Pioneer Theater in time for curfew. I went back to the Pioneer and after some searching, found him backstage talking to some of the Basie sidemen....that was Roger!”
“In Roger’s senior year, he was leaning towards Cal State Northridge as a choice under the jazz direction of Joel Leach. He was particularly angry that freshmen would have to play in the marching band, frustrated by this, he chose to leave after only one year in the college program. The rest is basically known by all of his professional friends and acquaintances,” said Wolfe.
“Over the years, Roger and I remained close. I used him as a guest soloist with my bands, and he was fiercely loyal to me personally as an ‘educator who knew and did it the right way’. He was a good man, and I love him and miss him,” exclaimed Wolfe.
He studied with the best in the field - Freddie Gruber for drums and Victor Feldman for vibes. He was self-taught on the piano and keyboards, taking only one piano lesson!
He drew musical inspiration from the greats; Victor Feldman, Lionel Hampton and Red Norvo. He idolized Buddy Rich, Louie Belson and Steve Gadd. He was influenced by Art Tatum, Fats Waller, Oscar Petterson and Gershwin. His modern taste and appreciation included the Yellowjackets, especially Jimmy Haslip, bass player of Yellowjackets, producer & longtime friend, Pat Metheny, Sting, Quincy Jones, Bella Fleck and Peter Gabriel.
He began working professional gigs at the age of sixteen in Los Angeles. He would spend entire Saturdays hunting down rare jazz albums at Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, adding to his album collection of over 1,000 albums, all in alphabetical order.
He formed several bands and served as the bandleader. His first band, in the 1980s, was “Triple Spec.” The name referring to the music industry phrase, “on spec”, meaning that many projects are on speculation, thus “Triple Spec” was born. They played often at Cafe Cordiale on Ventura Boulevard in Los Angeles.
Years later, he formed a new band, “Shapes”, which was a platform for his contemporary jazz compositions as well as for others in the band; Dave Derge (drums), Mike Higgins (guitar) and Andy Suzuki (saxophones & flute) and Dean Taba (bass.) His music was syncopated and sophisticated. He was constantly blazing his own trail.
Shapes performed in Jakarta at the Java Jazz Festival and then later, on the island of Bali, performing in Indonesia for two weeks. As part of a back up band for Indonesia's own, Dwiki Dharmawan for his 'World Peace Orchestra', he also performed again in Jakarta for the Java Jazz Festival, along with Shapes’ members Andy Suzuki, Tollak Ollestad, along with charter member on percussion, Walfredo Reyes, Jr., who played drumset.
He again played with the World Peace Orchestra at the Temecula Jazz Festival, joined by new Shapes member, Edwin Livingston, on bass. In addition, Jimmy Haslip, of the Yellowjackets & producer of all his albums, played with Shapes on bass, as well as Russ Ferrante on piano, from the Yellowjackets.
Highlights of his career include playing with The Brian Setzer Big Band, Chaka Khan, Lionel Ritchie, Stevie Nicks, Lou Vega, Barry Manilow & Ann Margaret, to name a few. He wrote charts for Mary J. Blige and numerous others.
He played vibraphones on the score of the Academy Award winning film “Sideways” starring Paul Giamatti.
Tragically, cancer took his life at the age of 46. Here’s what he said in his last blog;
“I will NOT shed this mortal coil until I'm satisfied that I've done all that I can, and ladies and gentlemen, I have ONLY begun to do what I feel that I'm called to do, which is to make music. All things considered, I feel VERY fortunate and yes, even an agnostic like myself, feels blessed, too. I'm surrounded by the love and support of so many friends, some of which I never knew even liked me!!!!”
He played and composed music to the very end! He toured Europe, Indonesia and had plans to return.
WE MISS YOU ROGER! We hope to honor you and your beautiful music that we all felt so blessed to hear, with this re-release of your last three albums! God rest your soul!
Elaine, Jimmy and Blue Canoe
“written by Bill Milkowski”.
This Press Release/Liner Notes originally appeared on the inside of the Physical CD packaging.
It was 30 years ago that South Florida guitarist Randy Bernsen burst onto the national scene with Music For Planets, People and Washing Machines, his auspicious debut for MCA Records that featured a lineup of such all-world players as Jaco Pastorius, Peter Erskine, Bob James, Bobby Thomas Jr., Othello Molineaux, Michael Urbaniak and Herbie Hancock. The proverbial hard act to follow, it was succeeded in 1986 by Bernsen’s acclaimed sophomore outing, Mo’ Wasabi, which had Jaco, Erskine and Hancock returning and also featured contributions from the likes of Michael Brecker, Toots Thielemans, Marcus Miller, Steve Gadd and Wayne Shorter. The guitarist completed his MCA trifecta with 1988’s similarly star-studded Paradise Citizens.
From 1990 to 1992, Bernsen was a member of the Zawinul Syndicate, replacing fellow Florida native Scott Henderson in Joe Zawinul’s exotic world music-meets-jazz ensemble and playing on the album Lost Tribes. More recently, he has toured and recorded with the Jaco Pastorius Big Band, appearing on the Jaco tribute albums Word Of Mouth Revisited in 2003 and The Word Is Out in 2006. Over the years, the longtime Fort Lauderdale resident has further showcased his six-string skills and composer-arranger prowess on a series of self-produced small group recordings (most recently 2012’s funky organ trio outing, App Teaser with guest artist John Medeski) while also earning his commercial pilot’s license, writing music for TV and touring through Japan and South East Asia.
GRACE NOTES marks Bernsen’s return to working on a bigger canvas with another all-star cast, including Yellowjackets co-founders Jimmy Haslip and Russell Ferrante, drummers Erskine, Gary Novak and Virgil Donati, keyboardists Scott Kinsey, Mac Chew and Colin James, saxophonist Steve Tavaglione, percussionists Luis Conte, Archie Pena and blues harmonica ace Rockin’ Jake. Florida homeboys Othello Molineaux, Bobby Thomas Jr. and Julius Pastorius (Jaco’s son) also make special guest appearances on his 12th album as a leader.
Co-produced by bassist Haslip, GRACE NOTES travels from a Miles Davis Tutu-era flavored jam to a crackling big band chart with some detours into soul-jazz, smooth jazz, funk, blues and N’awlins second line along the way. “It’s a collection of different musical elements that I’ve explored all coming together into one project,” says the guitarist, whose first road work was with Blood, Sweat & Tears back in 1977. “With Jimmy’s guidance and handpicking some of his L.A. bros for the project, Kinsey, Novak, Russell Ferrante, Virgil Donati and engineer Rich Breen, it all came together. I couldn’t be more pleased!”
Bernsen comes out stinging on the opener, a remake of the Yellowjackets’ slow grooving “Black Top” (from 2009’s Dreamland). While Steve Tavaglione conjures up an ominous Miles muted trumpet vibe on EWI, Novak powers the track with his slamming backbeat alongside Haslip’s slap basslines. Co-composer Ferrante provides some funky clarinet work on the bridge and comps in classic soul-jazz fashion on piano throughout. Randy’s slinky guitar solo pushes the envelope bot in his note and timbre choices, and Tavaglione takes the piece out with some sinuous soprano sax lines at the tag.
An ambitious re-imagining of Freddie Hubbard’s 1970 classic “Red Clay” features some dynamic big band flourishes courtesy of Bernsen’s guitar synth and Tavaglione’s synth horn work. Newcomer Max Boiko also contributes some tasty nuggets on trumpet. Randy shows some facile whammy bar articulation on his solo midway through the piece and also experiments with touches of harmonizer before drummer Erskine engages in a percussive breakdown with Conte’s congas to elevate the proceedings.
Easily his most impressive and personal project since the ‘80s, Bernsen’s star-studded GRACE NOTES has the veteran guitarist-composer covering a myriad of musical bases with confidence, swag and the chops to back it up.
Fromage is Atlanta-based pianist/ composer Randy Hoexter's second recording as a leader and Blue Canoe first. Randy’s vision was to chose a collection of cover songs, with the intent of re- inventing familiar material with a modern twist. However, instead of selecting deep and poetic material, Randy decided to take on the arguably greater challenge of "cheesy" pop songs. Once this concept was established, Randy interviewed many of his fellow musicians, did research, and dug into his own past to put this collection together.
Randy puts it like this:
"I did lots of research on surveys of the "worst songs" of all time, and certain titles kept popping up. These songs are part of the culture, especially for people my age. The goal here is not to make fun of these songs, but to take them seriously and do our best to make some modern art."
Once the material was selected, Randy went to work creating arrangements that both explored new harmonic and rhythmic areas but still honored the original themes and ideas in the songs. Many of the tunes were re-harmonized or given a new meter in order to take them in new directions. The timeless sound of Randy’s piano drives all the arrangements, and the majority of the charts feature a five- piece horn section with trumpet, saxophones, trombone and a signature bass clarinet. All of the instruments are brought forward at various times for solos and features.
These demanding, modern arrangements immediately brought to mind the talents of former Yellowjackets bassist Jimmy Haslip, who enthusiastically joined in. Legendary drummer Dave Weckl contributed three tracks as well. Randy also brought in a group of the Southeast's finest jazz players including saxophonist/multi woodwind virtuoso Sam Skelton, brilliant guitarist Trey Wright, Veteran session drummer Tom Knight and Cirque du Soleilpercussionist Kit Chatham.
Fromage, an elegant name for the everyday, sums up a recording that takes the listener to a new, and yet familiar place.
Randy Hoexter's Artist Page
Randy Hoexter's - "Fromage" Album Page