Saturday, December 5, 2015

Character Studies---Mike Bernard(c.1875-1936)

"I am the sole champion of Rag-Time!"-stated Bernard in 1900.

Bernard is notorious to many Rag-Time geeks to-day because of his complicated personal life, and also his extraordinary piano skills. His skills were not originally Ragged however, they were trained by the best in the world at the Berlin conservatory. From this, He had bragging rights over all the other pianists that he worked alongside in the 1890's. In 1896, he gained a reputation as a popular new "Rag" pianist, being taught by Mr. Rag-Time himself, Ben R. Harney. Bernard was then obligated to join the many "Rag Time" contests, where many of the top-liner pianists would join to try their hands at some syncopated piano playing. Many professors of the best lines joined, vaudevillians, and wandering pianists as well. Bernard joined in 1897, and immediately was recognised as an amazingly talented and able pianist in this new field of "Rag Time". He proved to be an extraordinaire in this new type of music, and he came out of nowhere. By 1898 and 1899, he was the main performer featured at Pastor's theater under Fred Hylands' direction. Bernard was not just a pupil of Harney's, by 1898, he had become a competitor against Harney. Bernard at this time was beginning to enjoy monumental success, and wanted to experience success at its finest. He was the best-known and most wanted accompanist in the U. S. by 1901, playing behind all the best performers known at that time, including Weber and Fields, and Lillian Russell. With this fame, he was unstoppable, no pianist would dare to play against him, only if they had enough ego to try him. Bernard was the best, and in his presence, not a soul would dare say otherwise. He was traveling around everywhere by 1905, with whatever act was employing hims at the time, and whatever "gigs" he accepted. 

Bernard was a man buried by his ego. In 1896, upon first meeting big, burly Fred Hylands, he challenged him to a cutting contest, and won just by how much the crowds loved him, and that he had more charm with the people who owned the establishment. No matter who it was who stepped in to a cutting contest with Bernard, they would lose quick, because Bernard would always play too many notes for the opposing pianist to comprehend and keep up with. Bernard was one of those men who would never stay with a single girl and be faithful to, as he would grow tired of a lady quick, after having his way with her, he would lose interest too soon for her to realise the truth. Every lady he courted is certainly to be pitied, because they were all victims of his vexing means and selfish mindset. He hadn't much empathy for others, and especially toward his sons, in which he left them to the women that he had them with, and never bothered to care for them. This lack of empathy came from his beliefs that he was an unstoppable pianist and could never be beaten by any other pianists, even though many of the pianists that he was in competition with had better rhythm and simpler melodic ideals than he. His accompaniment skills were similar to that of Fred Hylands, which were very steady and following to the singer or soloist, but also constantly calling for attention from the listeners. Bernard always over took the singers, even if he wasn't playing loudly, it almost always seemed as through the singers were overshadowed by their accompanist, Bernard. Even those singers with the best stage presence couldn't be bothered. When Bernard was urged to make those relatively few Columbia records in the early teen's, all the engineers were watching and listening to hims closely, as it was having the biggest star in all Rag-Time in their studio, twice as more popular than their own previous pianist Fred Hylands. Bernard was such a snitch, that Blossom Seeley(yes indeed the popular 20's singer!) attempted suicide over getting into a violent argument with him in 1909, but since ha cared just enough, he drove her off to the hospital where she eventually recovered from the substance that he drank. In the teen's, Bernard married four other women, and slept with who knows how many, but he was playing everywhere, and his $500 dollars from each of the records he made in 1912 and 1913 proved to be a good lasting amount for him. After several conflicts with numerous women, he was tarting to wind down by 1920, which did not do his ego and status well. He still believed he was the best at his craft, to the day he died. His children hated him, and for as long as they lived held a strong disliking for their father. His style lived on however, as many of the novelty pianists of the 20's said that they were inspired after hearing Bernard play in their youth, as he had many of the novelty ideas set for them by 1905. He is the reason that Ben Harney, Fred Hylands, and other popular pianists he worked alongside are not as well-known to-day, and even in their day as well. 

To close off here are three of those fantastic Columbia's that Bernard made in 1912 and 1913:
Him playing Wallie Herzer's "Everybody Two-Step"

Playing "The 1915 Rag"(in 1913!) by Harry Austin Tierney

playing F. M. Fagan's "That Peculiar Rag"

I hope you enjoyed this! Sorry it's been so many days since my last post, it's been hard to focus on a single thing! 

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