Bernie Arai’s musical career as a performer, educator, composer and recording artist spans styles through jazz to improvised music to Japanese taiko with many stops and tangents between. On drum set, percussion and electronics, he works with some of Canada’s most accomplished musicians. Born, raised and based in Vancouver, Bernie has performed across the country with various ensembles, and has also toured across the United States, Japan and Europe.
While studying engineering physics at the University of British Columbia Bernie played drums in the UBC big band under the direction of Fred Stride and gigged around town. After transferring to the Jazz Studies program at North Vancouver’s Capilano College, he studied with percussionist Ken Moore and jazz drummers Dave Robbins and Dylan van der Schyff. Bernie has also studied with New York jazz drummers Ian Froman and Bill Stewart.
Now Bernie leads his own ensembles (see his projects), including his trio The Big Much featuring Dave Sikula on guitar and Chad Makela on baritone saxophone. Other projects include a reunion of a trio with Chris Gestrin and Jon Bentley (on keyboards, woodwinds and electronics) called New Diversions, a double baritone saxophone and double drum set quartet called Rubber Arms, and a cooperatively-run contemporary jazz quartet called Oddity. Using the pseudonym underscore he creates experimental electronic music using a Nintendo Gameboy. Densabi features Bernie using the Atari ST computer with Chris Gestrin and shakuhachi master Alcvin Takegawa Ramos to create improvised ambient music. Along with saxophonist Jon Bentley Bernie co-leads a hard bop sextet called Ugetsu, and the electronic ensemble Elevatorhead.Thanks to Vancouver’s supportive scene, Bernie also works with many of the country’s finest musicians as a member of ensembles such as: the Brad Turner Trio, the Hard Rubber Orchestra, the Jennifer Scott Trio, the Ihor Kukurudza Trio, Fred Stride Jazz Orchestra, Sharon Minemoto Quintet, and Altered Laws. He remains in demand as an accompanist and band member for many legendary musicians from across Canada and around the world, appearing in concert at numerous music festivals worldwide, and on CBC Jazzbeat and Hot Air sessions. (see his performance credits) He has had the opportunity to guest host CBC's long running radio show Hot Air on two occasions, once to spotlight the powerful musicianship of Claude Ranger, and once to explore the influence of Canadian jazz on Canadian jazz musicians.
Released in 2009, "the perilous beauty of madness" by Dark Blue World features Bernie's drumming and has received rave reviews. Bernie plays on the latest CD from the quartet Altered Laws. Entitled "Metaphora", it was nominated for the 2007 Juno Award for Best Contemporary Jazz Recording and was awarded a 2008 Western Canadian Music Award for Outstanding Jazz Recording. In 2006 Cellar Live Records released Bernie's first recording as co-leader and producer featuring his sextet Ugetsu. Other recordings featuring Bernie’s playing include discs by Jennifer Scott ("Mile 41"), and the Fred Stride Jazz Orchestra ("Forward Motion"). (see his discography)
A dedicated and experienced educator, Bernie continues to teach here in Vancouver, including work as drum set instructor at the Vancouver Community College School of Music, and as a director of jazz bands at the University of British Columbia Summer Music Institute, Douglas College Summer Jazz Intensive, and North Shore Summer Jazz Intensive. He has served as instructor in the Capilano College Jazz Studies program and the Vancouver Creative Music Institute, and also teaches workshops and clinics in local schools for jazz bands and drum set.
see bernie's discography, his performing credits or his list of projects