Bob Bernotas might not be a jazzy household name, but he’s been writing about the genre for many years. With a successful monthly newsletter and as the host of a show by the same name on an East Coast college radio station, he’s dabbled in clarinet and sax but holds a soft spot for the trombone. In fact, Bernotas owns a Conn that was played in the Count Basie Orchestra.
His online newsletter is available free to subscribers (www.jazzbob.com). The content is mostly music with a substantial dose of politics and baseball thrown in. Readers will notice a particular penchant for Sinatra.
Bernotas is the author of Reed All About It: Interviews and Master Classes with Jazz’s Leading Reed Players and Top Brass: Interviews and Master Classes with Jazz’s Leading Brass Players.
When did you start your radio show?
In September 2003 I started doing “Just Jazz” on a poorly-run, amateurish station that I won’t name. Thirteen months later I left there and landed at WNTI (the public radio station of Centenary College in Hackettstown, NJ), where I did the show for eleven years until the station’s demise in October 2015.
In November, 2015, I was asked to join WRNJ and my show now is called “Just Jazz featuring The Sinatra Hour.”
What’s the geographic area it covers?
The station’s terrestrial listening area is northwestern New Jersey-northeastern Pennsylvania, but since the station streams on the Internet, I’m heard worldwide.
When did you start your newsletter?
In January 2005. It’s sent to approximately 670 recipients each month.
Who was your favorite on-air interview and why?
I don’t normally do on-air interviews, but while I was at WNTI I often had musician friends co-host all or part of the show with me.
In June of 2008, along with another WNTI colleague, I interviewed John Sanders, who played trombone with Duke Ellington in the 1950s. You can guess why that was special.
Do you think jazz and politics go together and why?
Absolutely! Jazz embodies and conveys values like freedom of expression, individuality, equality, democracy. These are not just so-called “American values,” but universal values to which all people aspire. That’s why jazz is so beloved in every corner of the globe; it speaks to people everywhere.
But these values all too often are frustrated in practice — in this country as much as anywhere else — so jazz can show people what they’re missing and what they should be fighting to attain.
Do you prefer a growly tenor sax, a walking bass line or a brilliant trumpet solo?
Actually I prefer a plunger-muted trombone to all of those. But of the three, it’s got to be a solid walking bass line by a Percy Heath or a Ray Brown or a Rufus Reid.
The most underrated jazz musician you can think of is:
Every trombonist! But to single out one? Well, there are so many candidates: clarinetist Edmond Hall, saxophonists Budd Johnson and Sahib Shihab, guitarist John Collins, drummer Big Sid Catlett all spring to mind.
Being on a campus in NJ, is interest in jazz increasing, declining or non-existent among college kids?
It’s hard to gauge precisely, but judging from the fact that every time my Jazz Appreciation class is offered at Rutgers the enrollment has gone up steadily, I’m hopeful that it’s increasing.
Your favorite Frank Sinatra song?
“Night and Day” from Frank’s A Swingin’ Affair album.
Is there room for Kenny G?
Not in my world.
Are people scared of jazz? Is it snobby (or, is that the perception)?
No, not at all. Jazz is a people’s music and those who are “scared of” (or resistant to) it are the real snobs.
Do you play anything?
At the age of eight I started playing clarinet, and eventually I added the tenor saxophone. But a few years ago I switched to my favorite instrument, the trombone. My teacher was my good friend, Benny Powell, who also sold me the Conn 6-H he played with Count Basie on “April in Paris.”
Who was your first love, among jazz musicians?
Count Basie is still my favorite.
Who, among living or dead of jazz masters, would you most like to interview?
I’ve been lucky enough to have interviewed quite a few jazz masters, but I’d have to say Count Basie and Ella Fitzgerald would be at the top of my list.
What single thing can universities do differently to get more young people into the jazz fold?
Offer Jazz Appreciation courses that emphasize not just the history and evolution of the music, but also how to really listen to it, and promote and publicize those courses so that interested students actually can find them.
As much as I like jazz, I also like jazz musicians. The most intelligent, witty, articulate, resourceful, sensitive, honest, and generous people I know are jazz musicians. These special men and women live the lives of artists in a world that overvalues all the wrong things and undervalues all the best ones. But through it all, they persevere, producing beauty, truth, and joy. I’m honored that so many of these remarkable people have shared their ideas, experiences, insights, and of course, music with me.
Photo credit: Bob Eberle
(c) Debbie Burke 2017