Music Online. Under the Radar
“Oscar Peterson said, ‘Bernie is one of my favourite local pianists…'”
Welcome to our weekly Sunday music section
“Notable Canadian Jewish Musicians.”
By David Eisenstadt
TORONTO. September 11, 2022 – 50+ years active, and jazz icon Bernie Senensky is still working hard and going strong.
That doesn’t begin to describe this notable Canadian Jewish musician’s incredible career.
The Winnipeg, Manitoba native was born to Reuben and Shauna (née Pascov) Senensky on December 31, 1944.
His Canadian-born parents ensured he took piano lessons. Classical with Clara Perlman at age eight, and at 14, he studied with jazz pianist Bob Erlendson.
The Ottawa Citizen’s Peter Hum reported, “he had one jazz teacher, and thereafter was self-taught.”
Senensky said he is “essentially a bebop player, and beyond. My heroes are anyone from Bud Powell to McCoy Tyner to Keith Jarrett and Herbie Hancock.” He’s also an organist “influenced by Larry Goldings, Mike LeDonne and Larry Young,” wrote Hum.
In Winnipeg, he played with local musicians including guitarist Lenny Breau and bassist Dave Young. For a time, he led a house band in Edmonton, Alberta, for the Holiday Inn hotel chain.
Don’t Look Back
>>>Click HERE to hear this video<<<
Senensky transitioned to Toronto in 1968 where he became a first-call accompanist for a who’s-who list of illustrious musicians. He toured the globe with many of them. His biography lists:
- 18 saxophonists/clarinetists including Pepper Adams, Ravi Coltrane, Buddy DeFranco, and Zoot Sims; 30 trumpeters from Chet Baker, Guido Basso and Terence Blanchard to Dizzy Gillespie, Red Rodney and Freddie Stone; 8 trombonists – Wycliffe Gordon, Slide Hampton, Russ Little and Rob McConnell; 23 guitarists – Ed Bickert, Herb Ellis, Lorne Lofsky, Rob Pilch, Bucky Pizzarelli, and Reg Schwager;
- 26 bassists from Eddie Gomez, Rufus Reid to Slam Stewart and Eugene Wright; 26 drummers – Archie Alleyne, Art Blakey, Jerry Fuller and Elvin Jones; 6 vibists including Peter Appleyard, Gary Burton, Paul Hoffert, and Don Thompson; 4 flautists – Sir James Galway, Moe Koffman to Herbie Mann and Bill McBirnie; 4 violinists – Moshe Hammer, Drew Jureka, Lenny Solomon, and Lara St. John; 29 vocalists including Tommy Ambrose, Heather Bambrick, Salome Bey, Ori Dagan, Catherine McKinnon, Ginette Reno, and Bobby Vinton.
He played piano duets with Marian McPartland and Oscar Peterson and joined established groups like The Maynard Ferguson Orchestra, The Moe Koffman Quintet, The Herbie Mann/Al Grey All-Star Septet, and Rob McConnell & The Boss Brass.
Mark Miller, in the New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, noted, “his playing is characterized by an obvious comfort in a wide range of styles, from swing to the assertive post-bop of his group.”
Peers recognized Senensky for his true artistry. Some years ago, Oscar Peterson said, “Bernie is one of my favourite local pianists, I really can’t understand why he hasn’t become better known.” Buddy DeFranco called him “The best of the best!” The late Boris Brott said, “It is always a great privilege to have our festival [in Hamilton, Ontario] associated with artists of Senensky’s stature.” Oliver Jones added “a brilliant, world-class pianist.”
Cherokee Sketches – Bernie Senensky Septet
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A recipient of many accolades/awards, including the Toronto Musicians’ Association Lifetime Achievement Award, he was twice nominated for Juno (Jazz Album of the Year) Awards – 1989 for Friday the 14th– 1993 for Wheel Within A Wheel.
In the ‘70s Senensky led his trio. In 1979 he was the keyboardist in Moe Koffman’s Quintet when that band was the top Canadian jazz combo. That gig lasted 20 years. The Canadian Jazz Archive reported, “As part of Koffman’s Quintet, Senensky ultimately had the opportunity to contribute many of his compositions to the band’s repertoire.” He has kept that music memory alive since 2003 leading the Moe Koffman Tribute Band.
Senensky’s debut album New Life was released in 1976; in 1989 he recorded with drummer Barry Elmes and bassist Kieran, Over The Chalet Season. In 1991 with his septet, he released Re-Action. Then came Homeland in 1994 which featured US musicians Gary Bartz, Harvie Schwartz, and Arkia Tana. Two years later he recorded an album of his 1993 Top of The Senator Toronto venue with bassist Jim Vivian and drummer Bob Moses. In 1999, came New Horizons featuring Eddie Henderson on trumpet and Kirk MacDonald on drums. 2011, he released Invitation with Gene Perla on bass and drummer Ben Riley.
He excels on the Hammond B3 Organ. A few years back he formed Organic, with drummer Morgan Childs, guitarist Nathan Hiltz and sax player Ryan Oliver for weekly Sunday evening gigs at (now shuttered) Joe Mama’s in Toronto. That led to his album – Live at Joe Mama’s in 2013.
Organic Earfood Blues for E.J.
>>>Click HERE to watch this video<<<
Senensky told me he’s “been busy since Covid eased up” releasing a new CD – Don’t Look Back with “another on its way.” He’s been playing, recording, and teaching in Vancouver, BC, and has an October 2022 German tour with his organ trio Organic Earfood, including vibraphonist Stefan Bauer and drummer Peter Baumgartner.♦
Credits: Photo Bernie Senensky; Benie Senensky – Topic/The Orchard Enterprises/YouTube; 25musical/YouTube; peter Baumgaertner/Simon Yu Productions/YouTube.
David Eisenstadt is the author of Under the Radar, 30 Notable Canadian Jewish Musicians. He is Founding Partner of tcgpr.com and a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary.
A complete list of David Eisenstadt’s articles can be viewed under Music Online in our category section. Do you have comments or questions about this article? Contact David Eisenstadt at
-David, nice piece about Bernie Senensky. He’s one of my faves! – PH, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
-I remember Senensky’s name from your Moe Koffman article. I had no idea Senensky was so talented and was sought after as a jazz pianist. Thanks for sharing this news, David. – PM, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
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