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In Memoriam: Warren Bernhardt

Mike Mainieri reminisces on his close relationship with the eclectic Bernhardt (Nov. 13, 1938-Aug. 19, 2022).

In Memoriam: Warren Bernhardt: November 13, 1938–August 19, 2022

I first met Warren in 1964 or 1965 through a mutual friend, drummer Donald MacDonald. My quartet was booked at The Royal Arms, a jazz club in Buffalo. The guitarist Joe Beck was not available, and Donald suggested I use Warren on piano. It was a weeklong stint and after the first night a monster blizzard blanketed the city. Just a few brave fans made their way to the club, so we had a chance to really stretch out. Warren and I played several duets. It was just magical. That was the beginning of a long and loving friendship.

Warren was playing with Jeremy Steig and the Satyrs and they were also backing folk singer Tim Hardin. I joined both touring groups. By 1969, quite a few musicians including Warren and Tim moved to Woodstock as did I. Our children went to school together and we performed together our entire lives. Studio sessions, tours, and many gigs at the Joyous Lake in Woodstock.

Warren played in White Elephant, my big band group during 1967-1972. When Steve Gadd and Tony Levin moved to Woodstock in the early ’70s we assembled the group L’Image. David Spinozza joined the group a few years later to make it a quartet. Warren and I recorded a duet album titled Free Smiles at the Montreux Festival and we both participated in the Arista All Stars live performance that same week with Randy and Michael Brecker, Steve Khan, Steve Jordan, and Marcus Miller. We also toured Japan with guitarist Kazumi Watanabe. Later, around 1984, Warren replaced Eliane Elias (who had replaced the group’s original pianist Don Grolnick).

Warren was one of the most versatile pianists on the scene. He began his career as a classical pianist, and he maintained a vast repertoire throughout his life. I was lucky enough to hear him perform a Rachmaninoff Piano Sonata just for fun or knock off some Chopin before a soundcheck and when I visited him at his house in Woodstock. I was agape every time.


He was a first-call pianist for sessions in New York City, especially for film and record dates that contained complex piano parts and required one or two takes of sight reading. One-take Warren!

He was an amazingly eclectic musician. One only has to review the artists he recorded with to appreciate his versatility. I loved playing with him regardless of the genre. He was also an incredibly “free” pianist. No boundaries. Impeccable time. I recall a performance we did at the Town Hall in Woodstock with four synthesists—totally free. He loved to experiment and was absolutely fearless.

Warren was fun to tour with although being the perfectionist that he was, there were times when the inconsistencies on the road could frustrate him but he had a great sense of humor and when it was time to play, it was game on. My favorite composition of Warren’s was “Praise.” I performed it with him for decades in duo, trio, and our quintet L’Image. It is a very moving piece.

Our lives intertwined in so many ways. Our marriages, the birth of our children, the amazing parties we attended in Woodstock, performances, tours, and record dates. Our families also collectively mourned the untimely deaths of our sons four years ago, both of whom were good friends and school mates.


Warren was my go-to guy when I needed to recall the date of a concert we did, a restaurant or hotel we stayed at in France. He possessed an uncanny memory for detail.

He was a genius, and I’ll miss him every day. I just turned 84 this past July 4, and Warren was going to turn 84 on Nov.13. Our family celebrates that day with love. [As told to Lee Mergner.]