Trumpeter whose grandfather was determined that he would grow up to be a classical musician, and hooked him up with Max Schlossberg, who was knocking on death’s door and was not entertaining beginning students at the time. Nevertheless, the renowned music teacher accepted young Bernie into the fold, and quickly taught him the fundamentals of embouchure. Max passed away and Bernie continued his studies with Nat Prager and Harry Glantz, a pair of Schlossberg proteges.
Bernie, however, was enraptured by the sounds of the big bands, and their big trumpeters, like Billy Butterfield of the Benny Goodman Orchestra and Snooky Young of the Jimmy Lunceford band. By the age of sixteen, he was already on the road, performing with the Richard Himber Orchestra. This was followed by stints with Xavier Cugat, Woody Herman, Raymond Scott, and Artie Shaw. After honing his chops in dance halls, night clubs, radio and television studios, and theaters, Bernie embarked on a recording career the breadth of which has become the stuff of legend.
His early recordings include some sides for Tony Bennett, such as “Can You Find it in Your Heart?”, “One for My Baby”, and “Sing You Sinners”, an Artie Shaw EP, and The Herd Ride Again. In 1961, he appeared on a four-volume series by Time Records entitled Overture, American Musical Theatre, a sweeping retrospective that spanned the years from 1924 to 1960. He also worked on several Miles Davis-Gil Evans records, including Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess, Quiet Nights, and Sketches of Spain. In 1964 and 1965, he laid down tracks that would appear on the Carmen McRae albums, Alfie and Haven’t We Met?. The late ‘60s featured collaborations with George Benson, Astrud Gilberto, and J.J. Johnson.
Here is a sampling of albums on which he appeared in the 1970s: African Symphony, Disco Baby, My Favourite Fantasy, The Real McCoy and Rhythms of the World by Van McCoy; Caliente! by Gato Barbieri; Everything’s Coming Up Love by David Ruffin; Melba by Melba Moore; Peaches & Herb; Primal Scream by Maynard Ferguson; Soul Box by Grover Washington, Jr.; and, Z-licious by Zulema.
Other artists and groups with whom he worked included: Andy Kirk and His Clouds of Joy, Billy Byers and His Orchestra, Teresa Brewer, Perry Como, Billy Eckstine, Ella Fitzgerald, The Four Seasons, Aretha Franklin, Dizzy Gillespie, The Grand Award All Stars, Buddy Greco, Al Hibbler, B.B. King, The Lovin’ Spoonful, The McGuire Sisters, Moby Grape, Wes Montgomery, Peter Nero, Patti Page, Wilson Pickett, Tito Puente, The Rascals, Frank Sinatra, Kay Starr, Mel Torme, Sarah Vaughan, Dionne Warwick, and The Will Bradley-Johnny Guerneri Band.
One of his last gigs was in the orchestral pit for a Broadway revival of 42nd Street. He died on 8th May 1982 from a blood disorder at the North Shore Hospital in Manhasset, New York.
He has left behind a staggering discography, and much of his output has been captured on CDs. The Girl from Ipanema – The Bossa Nova Years, Rare & Unreleased Recordings from the Golden Reign of the Queen of Soul, and Stoned Soul Picnic: The Best of Laura Nyro are but a handful.
Van McCoy recordings
The Shuffle (Van McCoy)
That’s the Joint (Van McCoy)
Here he is playing lead trumpet in a performance led by Leonard Bernstein…