An Appreciation: Gil Bernal

A few days ago we received a missive from Brick Wahl telling us that he had ended his association with the L.A. Weekly.  “Brick’s Picks has left the building” was the way he put it.  A bit later we discovered that his continuing problems – “micro-editing,” “rewriting” —  with a new editor had driven him to end the tenure of his widely read “Brick’s Picks” column. 

“I walked,” he said.  But it’s hard to understand how the Weekly could have allowed Brick’s departure to take place.  No one has done a better job of covering the Southland jazz community.  His intelligence, skill, musical insights and whimsical humor were immensely valuable – if, obviously, underappreciated–  assets to the Weekly.  And it’s their loss.   

Here at iRoM, however, we’re happy to welcome Brick’s presence and his far-reaching talents on our site – and often.  Here’s the first installment of what we hope will be many Brick Wahl bylines at iRoM.

By Brick Wahl

Gil Bernal died last week. We had no idea till we saw Johnny Whiteside’s beautiful  obituary in the Weekly. It shook us a bit, reading that. You see, Gil Bernal had played some of the most gorgeous tenor sax we had ever heard, played it right in front of us. We froze, listening.  That tone, that feel, that sound…it seemed to go all the way back to Prez. It devastated us.

Gil Bernal

You just don’t hear that sound anymore. You didn’t learn to play like that in college, or from a teacher, or anywhere nice and clean and respectable.  No, it was an old school tone, learned on endless nights of endless gigs, or on the tour bus, at cutting sessions till dawn. Jazz wasn’t academic then, wasn’t art and certainly wasn’t America’s Classical Music. It was way too real for that. This was inside stuff, all smoke and booze and sweat and pain and absolute joy. God and the devil together.  This was jazz.

So we said something like that in print. We got a call. It was Gil. He tells us that we had gotten it exactly, that for the first time someone had gotten down in words what he was trying to do. It was like a sucker punch. Here we hated writing about jazz, dancing about architecture, wishing we had never started this stupid gig in the first place, and a man who’d played the most moving thing we had heard in forever thanks us for getting it.

This fucking music, it gets in your bones playing it, listening to it, even writing about it. It haunts you, it addicts you, it ruins you. Gil’s sound broke our hearts, and his passing does it again.  Oh God we love this jazz music.

8 thoughts on “An Appreciation: Gil Bernal

  1. “Continuing problems” is an exaggeration…it had just started. I just didn’t feel like battling another new editor, since I’d already had so many editors there. And the Weekly asked me several times to reconsider, but I said no. The Weekly had been a very easy outfit to work for, they never fucked with me much, and the editors were easy, until the last guy. But he was new, give him a break. But I hated the gig, and had a long while, and hated being a jazz journalist. Never had been comfortable with it. I can’t play it, and didn’t feel right writing about it. Pretty words can get you through just about anything, but it doesn’t mean you’re telling the truth. So basically, it was just time to leave. The hard part was having to tell everybody. (The next hard part was having to get off so many publicists mailing lists…..) I’d done maybe 300 columns, a good sized novel’s worth, had missed only two issues in six years, and this last couple years hating every second I spent writing those words. Loathing it. But ya got a job, ya do it, you don’t have to like it. Life is a bitch. But finally it seemed to me I had done my bit. Time to go.

    I gave up a helluva lotta righteous perks splitting this gig, and significance, hipness and egomania potential (not to mention girls would talk to me), but to be honest I really didn’t give a fuck. I realized one day I couldn’t stand listening to jazz half the time anymore, I could write this shit in my sleep, I wasn’t able to do anything new, and I was in a complete rut. I hung on strictly for the summer’s perks, and because I didn’t want to say goodbye to people, or let them down. The new editor was a hassle (which he even apologized for) but hell, this was the out I was looking for. So I said that’s it. And it was. They were good people at the Weekly, you readers were good people, jazz people are good people. But now it’s time to wooodshed, study language, learn to write better, and relax a bit. I may write again, I may not. It doesn’t matter. I had a ball being a jazz writer, but that’s over now. If I learn to write something new about it, maybe I’ll be back.



    1. Brick,

      Sounds like the “new editor,” the guy that provided the final impetus to take your leave, was You….

      Took the liberty of forwarding several of your pieces on Gil to his family, and they were profoundly moved by your ability to capture the essence of his sound.

      There will be a tribute to the man on Sunday, August 28th, at First United Methodist Church, 500 E.Colorado Bl, Pasadena, at 2 pm. Relatives , fans and musicians will gather; if you are so inclined, I’m sure his grateful family members would love to shake your hand.

      Be well,


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