Bernie McGann

Bernie McGann at work.

The music made that afternoon to an audience of one was some of the most vital, living, emotional and highly skilled producing of art that this listener had ever heard. Anywhere.

Sonny Rehe of Uptown Jazz Cafe has penned some words in tribute to his friend Bernie McGann, whose recent loss has been felt deeply in the jazz community. It is a privilege to pass them on:

Sonny Rehe

Sonny Rehe

It is difficult to describe someone so utterly dedicated to their art form, whose sincerity is so deep it just never stops flowing. You tend to run out of adjectives.

Effortlessly inspirational, Bernie McGann’s kudos can probably best be “described” by one Friday afternoon rehearsal at Uptown not so long ago, in preparation for a performance later that night. First to arrive, Bernie sat patiently puffing on a Dr Pat while the lazy afternoon sun thought about setting.

Slowly the rest of the band enters, beaming upon seeing Bernie’s face, and the instrumentation takes shape. Ready to begin, Bernie says a couple of things about the first tune, takes a pause and proceeds to count it in.

Having played through the melody, the band starts to relax, preparing to finish this tune off and move on to the next one, when out of nowhere like some angel from a far away time and place, Bernie sets off on one of the most heavenly, serious improvisations you’ve ever heard. I mean he starts swinging his absolute ass off, blowing so heavy it’s as if all our lives depend on it — at this very moment, now.

The band (all well known collaborators) in a mixture of shock and adulation, scuffles to wake up to the situation they’ve found themselves in, and within seconds everyone goes from their warm-up mode to their absolute A-game.

In this room with the soft sunlight coming in the windows, one man is throwing everything he has at the music he’s playing, and it’s mastery level.

What was essentially a “sound check” just transformed into the most serious musical circumstance, somehow including me as sole witness, furtive glances of acknowledgement coming from the band.

Bernie continues to play each tune in the session with the same full-spectrum committed dedication, taking full length, thoughtful, evolving solos. Each successive tune is approached as if this is the crystallisation of the masterpiece you’d been so close to making your whole life, as if THIS IS IT.

And this is at the rehearsal!

You have never seen such an attentive, inspired, excited and fully concentrated rhythm section. The music made that afternoon to an audience of one was some of the most vital, living, emotional and highly skilled producing of art that this listener had ever heard. Anywhere.

Still partly in shock at the end of the hit, the band shuffles about a little, not quite recognising the afternoon, while a relaxed Bernie sits down like a contented leader does after a successful event, peels a banana and eats a sandwich that his beloved wife Addie made for him that morning in Sydney.

The last night I ever hung with Bernie, after one of his most sublime performances, he was uncustomarily happy about the concert. When I asked him what he enjoyed about it, he replied, “I dunno, I just managed to find some space in there. That’s all I’m really after; just wanna find some s p a c e . . . .”

I’ll always remember that at our parting moment, dropping him at his hotel that night, Bernie was happy.


Uptown Jazz Cafe

One response to “BERNIE WAS HAPPY

  1. Bernie was Happy – What a lovely birthday present for me this year – my birthday was September 25 and you know the rest, so thank you for the gift – As I read your article I saw my Bern there and in the now just like you said and I was there too Sonny, I love how you have described Bern and I respect what you have written – that was my strong man Bern – Sonny, I felt him. I saw him, I smelt him when reading your article, thanks for bringing back to me many similar situations that Bern and I have shared, believe me I will be reading your article again and again because I saw him clearly – you have described my Bern to a tee, and I am sure many of us who know him and love him would appreciate this article as much as I have. I know you do know Bernie – I was at the rehearsal with you when I was reading your beautiful words. A beautiful movie played in my mind – it’s was familiar, part of our life together, it was so real and it felt just so so comfortable.

    Importantly, thank you too Sonny for putting Bernie in the now – that’s true and you said it because you heard it.

    I was there with him Sonny whilst reading your words, so pure – his presence was thick, solid, strong, and you took me there again, that’s where I want to be all the time.

    It’s been a long and hard road and thanks to your article and Bernie did manage to give me a loving birthday present this year – it came through you – that would mean so much to him. It has been a blessing to me especially at this time.

    I love you my darling Bern and love is vibration and music is vibration and so it will go on and on to eternity. Energy never dies our love will never die.

    I love you Bern, and so did your friend Sonny (whom I have never met until i lived through the rehearsal with him). I do remember Sonny that you would telephone Bernie at home and I always guessed that you were checking in on him; making contact with him like you would your dad or grand dad; as did quite a few of the younger musicians and I took delight in those phone calls because I new the younger musicians were checking in with Bern and appreciating him, loving him, and respecting him. Bern and I knew that and it meant a real lot to Bern a man of few words.

    Thank you Sonny and thanks for making me happy to.

    A special and warm hello to Bernie’s friends. I hope you enjoy my appreciation to a very very special article. It was powerful for me Sony, I just love it to death.

    With much love and gratitude to all of our musician friends.

    Addie and Harry (Bern loved his little dog Harry, he had him ruined!)

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