Jazz Guitar Visit Inspires Studio and Stages
Peter Bernstein shares unique voice of jazz guitar through MSUFCU Jazz Artist in Residence program.
Randy Napoleon knew right away what guitarist would make a lasting impression on students in the College of Music Jazz Studies program at Michigan State University.
“Peter Bernstein,” says the MSU assistant professor of jazz guitar. “All guitarists of my generation admire and look up to him. I knew he would be great with students.”
Bernstein visited the university March 2-8 as part of the Jazz Artist in Residence program made possible through a $1 million endowment from the MSU Federal Credit Union. While in Michigan, the New York-based jazz guitarist instructed and performed with the MSU Jazz Studies program during a seven-day residency packed with workshops, master classes, and concerts, including a performance at the MSU Credit Union for about 185 patrons. Bernstein also took to the road with members of MSU Jazz Orchestra I to perform at high school music and jazz programs in communities in Southeast and Western Michigan.
Bernstein’s experience and network, Napoleon says, uniquely position him as an ambassador for the past, present, and future of jazz. As a jazz guitarist, Bernstein has been featured on nearly 80 recordings, and has released nine albums and a DVD. He’s been praised by the legendary guitarist Jim Hall, played with jazz masters like Lou Donaldson and Sonny Rollins, and performed with cutting-edge contemporaries like Larry Goldman. On top of all that, Napoleon says, Bernstein is simply a nice guy who enjoys mentoring and teaching students of jazz.
“Peter is the most recorded and respected guitarist of his generation,” says Napoleon. “He’s worked with so many different groups—oftentimes groups that wouldn’t otherwise have a guitarist. He’s a powerful force in opening up and enhancing the role of guitar in jazz from the 1990s to the present.”
Napoleon was in college when he made a “pilgrimage” to New York to hear Bernstein play in a small club. Later, when Napoleon moved to New York, Bernstein became his mentor and friend, inviting him to attend small gigs and to sit in with various bands and combos.
MSU jazz student Olin Clark had a similar experience when he traveled to New York a few years ago to hear Bernstein play. Clark approached Bernstein in between sets, and after an informal conversation was invited to join the musician for a few sit-down sessions a day or two later.
“He was just a very generous guy with his time,” says Clark. “And I got to see that more and more as I spent time with him when he came here to campus, too.”
Although the concepts Bernstein shared were universal to every musician in the Jazz Studies program, Clark says that having a guitarist in residence provided some unique opportunities for the jazz guitar studio.
“We did an arrangement where three of us performed with Peter alongside the jazz band,” says Clark of a concert at Fairchild Theatre. “That’s something I’ve never done before. Usually, a guitar plays a minor role in a big band, so having four of us up there performing a major part at the same time was a trip.”
Director of Jazz Studies Rodney Whitaker agreed that Bernstein masterfully demonstrated the beauty, brilliance, and elegance of jazz guitar. He remarked, too, on the powerful effect that visiting artists like Bernstein have on students and the community.
“They inspire. They teach. And they elevate the awareness of jazz as an American art form,” says Whitaker. “We’re extremely grateful that the MSU Federal Credit Union has provided the resources for us to bring these jazz masters to campus.”
The MSUFCU Jazz Artist in Residence program represents the largest-ever investment in the College of Music’s curriculum. The 2014-2015 program featured a blazing line-up of critically acclaimed musicians from the international, national, and regional scene, including Christian McBride, Robin Eubanks, Peter Bernstein and Michigan jazz icons Tim Froncek and Vincent Bowens.
Recap: On the Road with Peter Bernstein
While an MSUFCU Jazz Artist in Residence in March, jazz guitarist Peter Bernstein took to the road with Jazz Orchestra I as part of MSU’s efforts to bring jazz performance and education to Michigan high schools, music academies, and colleges.
Destinations and highlights:
- Spring Lake High School . . . 40 students participated in workshops and an outreach concert for more than 300 community members.
- Black River High School . . . 22 students participated in workshops and an outreach concert for close to 110 community members.
- Royal Oak High School . . . 24 students participated in workshops and an outreach concert for close to 300 community members.
What people said:
“It was a great experience to have MSU students sit in and play along with our students as professor Whitaker worked with the band. The MSU students were so kind, helpful, and encouraging. Our crowd loved the MSU Jazz Orchestra and Peter Bernstein.”
-Mike Truszkowski, music director, Spring Lake High School
“Professor Whitaker and the students at MSU enriched my students’ jazz education using a sincere and positive approach. Truly a program-enhancing day!”
-Jon Montgomery, music director, Black River High School
“Our evening with the Be-Bop Spartans and Peter Bernstein was among the most positive experiences I can remember in Royal Oak. The MSU students interacted with ours so graciously, and with genuine concern for their growth. Professor Whitaker's insight and passion captured my student’s undivided attention, and truly inspired them. The evening performance was simply outstanding, and is still generating rave reviews from students, staff, and community. All of us here in Royal Oak send our most sincere thanks, and will eagerly await the opportunity to host these amazingly talented musicians again.”
-David Jensen, director, Royal Oak High School