Bernard Peiffer – Pianist
Bernard Peiffer was born on October 23, 1922 in Epinal, in the Vosges district of north eastern France. Bernard’s father, formerly an army man, was a violinist and was devoted to chamber music. An uncle, Georges Peiffer, was a composer and church organist.
Bernard began his music study at the age of 9; he studied piano and harmony privately with Pierre Maire (a student of Nadia Boulanger) and dazzled older students with his ability to play back extended sections of classical pieces by ear. He continued his studies through his teens at Ecole Normale de Paris, the Marseille Conservatory, and the Paris Conservatory, where he won the coveted and revered First Prize in Piano.
Attracted by the freedom and improvisational basis of jazz and influenced by the pianistic styles of Fats Waller and Art Tatum, Bernard made his professional debut in 1943, at the age of 20, with alto saxophonist Andre Ekyan.
Soon after his debut he worked at the Boeuf Sur Le Toit Paris nightclub with Django Reinhardt. Bernard credited Reinhardt with teaching him the music business and Django predicted a brilliant career for the young Peiffer.
After witnessing the execution of his friend on a Paris street at the hands of the Gestapo, Bernard joined the French Resistance Movement. He was eventually captured by the Gestapo and imprisoned for over a year.
Out of the army in 1946, he resumed his music career, playing concerts for the French Hot Club at the Salle Pleyel and resuming his association with Django Reinhardt.
He toured with Hubert Rostaing and Jacques Helian. In February 1948 he performed in Nice at what was probably the world’s 1st jazz festival; it was there that Bernard’s playing so impressed Ellington alumnus Rex Stewart that he hired Bernard to tour and record with his band. After working with Stewart he recorded with Don Byas, James Moody, and Kenny Clarke, and he again reunited with Django for club dates and a tour.
On Monday, December 20th, 1954 Bernard Peiffer left his successful career in France and immigrated to the United States.
Influenced by the encouragement of his colleagues and by his own commitment to continued artistic growth, Bernard immersed himself in the American jazz scene and American culture. He settled in Philadelphia in 1954 and was soon joined by his wife Corine and baby daughter Rebecca. Frederique, his daughter from an earlier marriage to singer Monique Dozo, remained in Paris.
His first American-born child, Pascale, arrived in 1956; her tragic illness and death at the age of 2 profoundly affected Bernard and is reflected in his moving “Poem for a Lonely Child”. Son Stephan arrived in 1962.
In 1974 he performed at the Newport-New York Festival’s solo piano night held in Carnegie Hall. He brought the house down. “I thought Carnegie was going to explode,” he later said.
Bernard continued to teach and perform around Philadelphia until his kidney problems worsened in 1976. He died on September 7. He was 53 years old. His career, which started with such acclaim and promise in France, never reached the level of success in the United States that critics and fellow musicians had expected.
Your biography about Bernard Peiffer is directly form my writings about him which were completed, published, and presented after much research and thought. Most of my work on my teacher and friend Bernard Peiffer can be found in a paper presented to IAJE or published on AllAboutJazz. Excerpts were also used in the liner notes for Formidable by Stephan Peiffer. I’m sure that your intention was to simply provide brief information about Bernard. I would appreciate it if you would cite me as the author and source of the biography and add links to the complete works for your readers. Don Glanden
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