Smokin’ at Smoke

| Updated on October 3, 2020

Last night I’ve been to New York’s Smoke Jazz Club, went there to see the wonderful Peter Bernstein Quartet. I haven’t had so much pleasure and fun listening to live jazz music in years! The guys played so well! The selection of tunes – some old and new by Peter Bernstein, – the high fly of musicianship, listening, support, interaction, lyricism, creativity plus the consistent presence of swing and blues… Everything you love!

They’re all top-notch – Peter Bernstein on guitar, Sullivan Fortner on piano (piano players, you should definitely check him out!), the wonderful Peter Washington on bass and crispy swinging Joe Farnsworth on drums!

The sound quality and camera work were outstanding. This was a great experience, thank you, people at Smoke Jazz Club!

I have enjoyed every moment! And all this was… without leaving the bedroom of my Tel Aviv apartment!

Peter Bernstein Quartet performed at Smoke Jazz Club on Friday and Saturday, August 14 & 15, 2020 as part of Smoke Screens Livestream Concert Series. For more info, visit Smoke Jazz Club website.

The Quartet

Guitarist and composer Peter Bernstein has been a part of the jazz scene in New York and abroad since 1989. During that time he has participated in over 200 recordings and numerous festival, concert and club performances with musicians from all generations. As a leader, Peter has released 12 albums and a DVD, Live at Smoke.
Guitarist Jim Hall noted that Peter “…has paid attention to the past as well as the future. He is the most impressive guitarist I’ve heard. He plays the best of them all for swing, logic, feel and taste.”
Peter Bernstein was discovered by alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson and took part in the first of four recordings with him. Peter has also enjoyed long musical associations with legendary drummer Jimmy Cobb (Cobb’s Mob), as well as organist Larry Goldings and drummer Bill Stewart as a member of their highly acclaimed trio.
Peter was a member of Joshua Redman’s band, he played with Diana Krall’s quartet from 1999 through 2001 and with Dr. Lonnie Smith. He has also recorded five CDs with organist Melvin Rhyne, known for his association with Wes Montgomery. In addition, Peter has appeared in groups led by Sonny Rollins, Bobby Hutcherson, George Coleman, David Fathead Newman, Etta Jones and Nicholas Payton.

Bassist Peter Washington and drummer Joe Farnsworth both are well established and among the best rhythm players on the Jazz Scene.
I have heard Peter Washington with Tommy Flanagan Trio and he sounded just wonderful – very swinging and supportive.
In 1986 he joined Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers and moved to New York City. Beginning in the 1990s, he toured with the Tommy Flanagan trio until Flanagan’s death in 2002, and has played with the Bill Charlap trio since then. Both him and Peter Bernstein played with The Blue Note 7, an all-star septet formed in honor of the 70th anniversary of Blue Note Records.

Joe Farnsworth is one of the swingiest drummers out there, played with Junior Cook (1991), Jon Hendricks (1991), Jon Faddis (1992), George Coleman, Cecil Payne (1993 and subsequently), Annie Ross, and Benny Green (1995). He has played in the group One for All with David Hazeltine, Jim Rotondi and Peter Washington and worked with Benny Golson, Steve Davis, and Eric Alexander in the second half of the 1990s.

Today Joe is a driving force on a New York jazz scene. He very often plays at Smoke with Eric Alexander, Mike LeDonne. His new record “Time To Swing” should be released later this year.

The special part of the Quartet is a pianist Sullivan Forner who I am discovered recently and he really stands out.

Sullivan was part of the vibraphonist Stefon Harris’ band in 2009 and the regular pianist in trumpeter Roy Hargrove’s band from 2010 to 2017. He has released two albums on Impulse! Records.
Sullivan Fortner, who was born and grew up in New Orleans sounds really fresh and original. He went on to obtain a bachelor’s degree from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and a master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music. In 2015He was the winner of the Cole Porter Fellowship by the American Pianists Association (2015).

What is special about Sullivan is that he brings his knowledge of the piano history – Blues, Boogie, Stride Bebop New Orleans piano and Latin and finds his way to make it sound really fresh and original. His piano technique is amazing, he uses both hands equally. He creates unusual counterlines in the left hand that remind of Brad Mehldau and Fred Hersh (who was his mentor and both collaborated in a Duo project).
Sullivan has a truly original voice. You can read more about Sullivan Fortner on his website.

The Music

Below are some videos of the Peter Bernstein Quartet that were published by Smoke Jazz Club prior the Show on their Facebook page. These to give you the impression of how this group sounds.

Here is a bouncing version of the popular standard “Sweet and Lovely” (G.Arnheim, C.N. Daniels, H.Tobias) at a relaxed tempo. Aand it sounds so good!

“Minority” is one of the well-known compositions written by the great alto saxophonist and composer Gigi Gryce in the ’50s. It’s a short form up-tempo minor tune that goes rounds chorus after chorus. Notice very original playing by the pianist Sullivan Fortner, his use of counter lines and left hand are amazing. Also, a drum solo by the great Joe Farnsworth is really sparkling.

The Set at Smoke Jazz Club

The program of the Quartet performance on Saturday Night at Smoke Jazz Club consisted mainly of the music they recorded for a new album that Peter Bernstein has made with this group. Here a the tunes from that set, all of them written by the guitarist Peter Bernstein (except as mentioned):

1. Simple as That 
2. Jet Stream
3. Dragonfly
4. Empty Streets
5. Love For Sale (by Cole Porter)
6. Blood Wolf Moon Blues
7. Harbor No Illusions

The arrangement of the famous “Love For Sale” by Cole Porter was played is a bright tempo 3/4 swinging time and sounded really exciting.

Empty Streets

I bumped into this beautiful ballad composed by Peter Bernstein he posted on Facebook in April 2020 just at the beginning of the Pandemic.

Peter wrote this on his Facebook page: “Hello Friends, I hope you are staying safe in these surreal and scary times… here’s a little ditty I wrote in the last few days…not sure what to call it, maybe “Empty Streets”?

Here is Peter plays Empty Streets on a Fender Rhodes electric piano at his home. This was surprising for me to hear him play keyboard so well…

Here is Peter Bernstein Quartet plays his original “Empty Streets” with his Quartet at Smoke:

Some Blues …

Watch and hear Sullvan Fortner piano solo on “Blood Wolf Moon Blues“:

What Comes Next

In July 2020 Peter Bernstein together with Sullivan Fortner, Peter Washington, and Joe Farnsworth went to a recording studio for a day (6 hours) and recorded, as Peter says: “…some new tunes and some old tunes”.

The recording will be released in early October and will be called “What Comes Next”

Alec is a jazz pianist, composer, arranger and educator from Tel Aviv. He loves playing, writing, teaching and learning music. Alec has built his website and he loves sharing his knowledge, experience and musical ideas and content.

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