Oral Histories

Interview of Gil Bernal

Jazz tenor saxophone player, vocalist, and bandleader.
Central Avenue Sounds: Gil Bernal
Central Avenue Sounds Oral History Project
Latina and Latino History
African American History
Biographical Note:
Jazz tenor saxophone player, vocalist, and bandleader.
Isoardi, Steven L.
Bernal, Gil
Persons Present:
Bernal and Isoardi.
Place Conducted:
Isoardi's home in Pasadena, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Steven L. Isoardi, UCLA Oral History Program; B.A., Government, University of San Francisco; M.A., Government, University of San Francisco; M.A., Political Science, UCLA; Ph.D., Political Science, UCLA.Isoardi prepared for the interview by consulting jazz histories, autobiographies, oral histories, relevant jazz periodicals, documentary films, and back issues of the California Eagle and the Los Angeles Sentinel.
Processing of Interview:
Alison Easterling, editorial editor, edited the interview. She checked the verbatim transcript of the interview against the original tape recordings, edited for punctuation, paragraphing, and spelling, and verified proper names. Whenever possible, the proper names of nightclubs were checked against articles and advertisements in the back issues of the California Eagle. Words and phrases inserted by the editor have been bracketed.Bernal reviewed the transcript. He verified proper nouns and made extensive corrections and additions.Alex Cline, editor, prepared the table of contents, biographical summary, and interview history. Daniel Ryan, editorial assistant, compiled the index.
4.5 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
Interviews in this series preserve the spoken memories of individuals, mainly musicians, who were raised near and/or performed on Los Angeles's Central Avenue from the late 1920s to the mid-1950s.
TAPE NUMBER: I, Side One (February 8, 1998)Family background—Watts neighborhood in which Bernal grew up—Family and friends' employment at a local cannery—Music Bernal heard as a youth—Bernal's excitement on first hearing Harry James—First experience of hearing a big band in person—Bernal's desire to become a trumpet player is discouraged by his family.TAPE NUMBER: I, Side Two (February 8, 1998)Performs as a comedian-impersonator while at Jordan High School— Anthony Ortega suggests Bernal take up the saxophone—Friends and acquaintances who introduced Bernal to jazz records—Gangs in Watts during Bernal's youth.TAPE NUMBER: II, Side One (March 15, 1998)Begins tenor saxophone studies while at Jordan High School—Influential musicians at Jordan—First engagements as a saxophonist—Bernal spends his last high school year at Huntington Park High School—Differences between Huntington Park and Jordan—Hears Teddy Edwards, Dexter Gordon, and Wardell Gray—Sunday afternoon jam sessions at the Downbeat Club.TAPE NUMBER: II, Side Two (March 15, 1998)The underage Bernal is picked up by the police for attending a nighttime concert at the Downbeat Club—Sunday afternoon jam sessions around Central Avenue—The teenage Bernal plays at a jam session—Bernal begins associating with Hollywood-area jazz musicians—Los Angeles clubs and after-hours spots in the forties—Bernal engineers an opportunity to audition for Lionel Hampton's band—Hampton puts Bernal on stage to sing a number the band—Hampton hires Bernal.TAPE NUMBER: III, Side One (March 15, 1998)Bernal is invited to go on the road with Hampton's band—Bernal gets married—First recording with Hampton.TAPE NUMBER: IV, Side One (May 3, 1998)Bernal's first impression of bebop—Attends Los Angeles City College (LACC) as a journalism major—Continues playing and takes some music classes—Friends Bernal made at LACC—On the road with Lionel Hampton—Hampton incorporates Bernal into his saxophone section—Saxophonists, trombonists, and trumpeters in Hampton's band—Experiences which helped prepare Bernal for Hampton's band—Audience reaction to the band—Conditions Bernal encountered when Hampton's band toured the South.TAPE NUMBER: IV, Side Two (May 3, 1998)More on conditions Bernal encountered when Hampton's band toured the South—The end of Bernal's tenure with Hampton—Prominent music venues in Los Angeles in the early fifties—Bernal is approached by a Hollywood talent agent—Musical engagements in Los Angeles after leaving Hampton's band—Bernal enjoys an extended booking at La Madalon on Sunset Boulevard—Recording Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller's music—Bernal chooses to perform more commercial music in order to support his family—Backs the Robins (later the Coasters) in Las Vegas—More on the recording sessions with Leiber and Stoller—The Lincoln Theatre.TAPE NUMBER: V, Side One (May 3, 1998)The development of Latin jazz in New York City and Latin dance music in Los Angeles during the fifties—Population shifts that led to the demise of Central Avenue—Segregated neighborhoods in Los Angeles—Bernal's support for the amalgamation of the American Federation of Musicians locals in Los Angeles—Musical projects Bernal was involved in during the late fifties and early sixties—Lenny Bruce appears at the opening of the Slate Brothers nightclub in West Hollywood—Bernal returns to playing jazz with some of Central Avenue's prominent artists.