By Greg Carannante
City & Shore Magazine
The bespectacled guitarist taps a pedal at his toes and the percussive tones of something other than a guitar fly from his fingers. What is that … a marimba? A steel drum? A glockenspiel, for goodness sake?
You never know what sounds will come swirling out of Randy Bernsen’s guitar synthesizer when he’s onstage, as was the case on a recent night at LauderAle Brewery near Port Everglades — and has been the case for decades on the South Florida club scene. In fact, Bernsen’s been serenading local audiences since he was in his teens, eventually playing with Oakland Park bass legend Jaco Pastorius in the Peter Graves Orchestra at Fort Lauderdale’s famous Bachelors III in the mid-1970s. A later local foray was his ’90s residency at Tavern 213, the dear-departed harbinger of Himmarshee Village nightlife that rendered his Live at Tavern 213 album in 1997.
Bernsen may be a local musician — he attended Plantation High School and the University of Miami and still lives in Fort Lauderdale — but he long ago established national jazz fusion cred, breaking out beyond South Florida with concerts in Europe, Southeast Asia and Mexico, a 1977 stint with Blood, Sweat & Tears and collaborations with a constellation of national jazz all-stars. For his 1986 major-label debut album, Music for Planets, People and Washing Machines, Bernsen literally rang up Pastorius, Herbie Hancock, Peter Erskine and Bob James, and asked if they’d come play. His two follow-ups added such luminaries as Wayne Shorter, Michael Brecker, Marcus Miller, Steve Gadd and Toots Thielemans.
He’s self-released other albums since then, but recently struck a deal with Blue Canoe Records to re-release his 2015 album, Grace Notes, co-produced by longtime friend and Yellowjackets founder Jimmy Haslip.
“I’m excited to have a company behind the project to give it the promotion it needs and deserves,” says Bernsen, 65, who’s also a professional pilot. “They will get it out to some major music publications, which hopefully will get us into some tours here and/or Europe and Japan.”
Swinging his fingers from fretboard to keyboard, Bernsen recently took time out from composing a jazz suite to respond to our standard set of Quote Unquote questions.
Aside from the weather, what do you enjoy most about South Florida?
The lifestyle, not too fast, not too slow… somewhere between Casual Caribbean and Full Throttle.
Aside from the weather, what do you dislike most about South Florida?
The ever-expanding traffic.
Are you a beach person or a pool person?
We live seven minutes from the beach. I don’t swim there every day, but certainly do a daily drive-by.
When in your life are you or have you been the happiest?
Starts with a great night’s sleep, knowing the family is healthy and that God’s hand is overhead through the good and the not so good.
What do you do when you’re stuck in a traffic jam on I-95?
Not much … continue listening to news, a Blinkist, Bible study and, of course, music.
What music are you listening to now?
That would be traditional Japanese music. We just were at Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach, so the next few days will be a la Japan.
Are you a fan, and if so, of what?
Beatles, Sting, Longmire, airplanes, and ….
If you had to choose: Beatles or Stones?
Sorry, but Beatles … period!
What are your social media handles?
Nothing complicated: Randy Bernsen Music.
Apple or Android?
Apple … phones, computer, socks, toothbrush, sauce.
Who is your real-life hero or heroine?
Today’s heroes are all those here and abroad defending our freedom and keeping us safe.
What car are you driving now?
2004 Ford Explorer.
If you had to choose: Rocky or Raging Bull?
Raging Bull only because my grandparents supposedly knew him … I guess?
What do you like most about yourself?
What places in South Florida do you recommend to guests visiting from out-of-town? Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens. Of course, they’re coming for the beach and water, but I still like to throw them a curveball.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Many, but before I forget … about 10 pounds around the waist!
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
That I’m still in the ‘music bizzz.’ It’s changed so much … what hasn’t changed is my continued fascination and lifelong relationship to this ancient art.