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Talking Jazz Guitar With Peter Bernstein and Jimmy Bruno

Scott Krane By

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For many years Les Paul held a regular concert at the Iridium Jazz Club in Manhattan on Monday nights. After his death in 2009, others who are loosely considered to be in the same genre as Les Paul's jazz trio have performed the traditional gig at the Iridium.

On Monday, July 8, on the eve of his day of birth, the Les Paul trio (Lou Pallo on solid-body electric guitar, Nicki Parrott on bass and John Colianni on piano) performed alongside a guitar duo of Jimmy Bruno, the 59-year-old, one-time leader of Frank Sinatra's band and Peter Bernstein, an East Coast jazz guitar stalwart. I caught up with Peter and Jimmy at a table to the side of the bandstand at Iridium after their late show.

The club is located underground on Broadway and 51st street. An unassuming room by the standards of a legendary venue, framed musical artifacts line the walls. There is a main floor with dinner tables before the bandstand, and a low mezzanine bears additional seats. The bar is very small and wedged in the right corner of the mezzanine.

Peter Bernstein sits up and leans forward for the interview, though speaks gently into my microphone. Jimmy leans back and fidgets. Peter is wearing a coat sans a tie, Mr. Bruno, a button-down shirt, his sleeves rolled up. In the background, music is playing slightly too loudly on the house PA:

Scott Krane: Whose idea was it to collaborate? Was it Jimmy? Or was it Peter?

Jimmy Bruno: Different people put us together. I've been a fan of Peter before I met him; he is just so melodic and lyrical.

SK: Where did you first hear Peter, Jimmy?

JB: Radio.

SK: On the radio?

JB: Yeah

SK: A local New York station?

JB: WRTI in Philadelphia. I am trying to think of the first time we played together.

Peter Bernstein: At Chris's.

JB: At Chris's. A guy named Al McMahon who books the music there. He is a big guitar buff. And he said how would you like to play with Peter Bernstein?

SK: Chris who?

JB: The club is called Chris's in Philly.

SK: Oh. Chris's in Philly.

JB: And various times people put us together. This one was Ron Stern.

PB: Yes. He called me and asked me who else I would like, another guitarist so I mentioned you.

JB: It just kind of happens, you know?

Peter Bernstein: Jimmy's been playing at Chris's for how long? For 20 years? He's a legend down there.

SK: When is the next time you are playing in Philly?

JB: July 26.

SK: What's it like playing with Lou Pallo?

JB: He's the real deal. He's got that real sound the way music used to be. It is a real treat to see somebody sticking it true to the music.

SK: How so? How is he treating the music?

PB: I don't think he knows any other way except how he does it. I mean he just does it the way he does it. He is a strong rhythm player. He represents a certain kind of guitarist that doesn't really come up any more, like he like knows every tune all the changes, all the slick arrangements and everything.

SK: Jimmy, are you teaching still?

JB: I am teaching online. If you go to you'll find it.

SK: How many students?

JB: Well, it's a subscription site, it changes all the time. It's hard to put a number on it.

SK: But you're having success with it?

JB: Oh yes. Really successful. Sometimes too successful. It's hard to travel, play and still keep that up. It's a 24/7 job.

SK: Peter, where are you teaching?

PB: At NYU and The New School.

SK: NYU AND The New School?

PB: New School is more like I'm on the faculty there, NYU is more, well it depends on how many students sign up, last semester I had like 6 students.

SK: Can each of you guys recall stories about Les Paul?

JB: Well, the first time I met him was at the old Iridium.

SK: Where was the old Iridium? Was it downtown more?

JB: I was just thinking about that myself.

PB: It was at Lincoln Center. [sic]

JB: And Tal Farlow was in town, and I took a picture with—I was standing in the middle of Tal Farlow, Les Paul and me. Somebody was taking a picture, I had just met him. And while they were taking the picture, Les Paul said to Tal, boy they're making them shorter these days... [pause]...guitar players. [joke]


SK: Got it.

PB: That's rough.

SK: Who said this? Les said this to Tal?

JB: Yeah. Typical Les Paul stuff. I loved it. Very nice man. Both of them.

PB: I never met him. I saw him once at Fat Tuesday's when he used to have a steady gig at Fat Tuesday's. I never met him personally.

(A glass of brandy or scotch is delivered to Jimmy Bruno)

SK: He probably had a long line of guys waiting to learn with him.

PB: I think so. All the teaching he did. He was Les Paul.

SK: He stayed true to the music, right?

PB: He's a pop star from way back. He was a star in the early '50s, you know?

JB: There aren't guitar stars like that anymore. He wasn't just a jazz guitarist. I mean, he was—he took it further; he turned it into a very commercial success.

SK: Both Peter Bernstein and Jimmy Bruno are known as jazz guitar purists.


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