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New York Yankees’ Bernie Williams: Doing the Bernie Shuffle

For a guy who could probably purchase the entire jazz industry if it displeased him, New York Yankees centerfielder Bernie Williams seems genuinely cowed by the musicians who helped him assemble his debut album, a showpiece for his guitar skills called The Journey Within (GRP). “Playing with people who play guitar for a living is very intimidating for me,” says the soft-spoken Williams, chilling in Tampa while he rehabilitates his knee. It shouldn’t be, though: Williams’ off-field chops are nearly as impressive as his lifetime batting average (a smoking .307). And unlike, say, the braintrust behind “The Superbowl Shuffle,” The Journey Within’s crew comprises some of the best musicians working today-Béla Fleck, for example, as well as David Benoit, Rubén Blades and even turkey-necked Saturday Night Live bassist T-Bone Wolk.

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Williams originally planned to be a musician and attended the island’s Escuela Libre de Musica before his baseball skills brought him to major league scouts’ attention in his teens. “It was always something that came naturally to me,” Williams says of the guitar. He recalls fondly “doing my homework, changing into my other clothes and every Thursday sprinting to my guitar class” at eight years old. “But it wasn’t till I went to music high school when I was in ninth grade that I really developed some technique.” Julian Bream, John Williams, Andrés Segovia and Pepe Romero remain heavy influences, though Williams notes that since arriving in the States, he’s become interested in blues, jazz and rock as well, citing B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, Mike Stern and many others as guitarists he admires. “My philosophy is that if it’s well-made, and it’s challenging to the ear, I will listen to it.”

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