February 4, 1931 – July 17, 2011
Gil Bernal was an esteemed jazz saxophonist and vocalist who, over a career that spanned some 60 years, became one of L.A.’s most in-demand session player, and played with a laundry list of the world’s greatest jazz musicians. Born in the Watts section of Los Angeles, Bernal grew up with future jazz greats Big Jay McNeely and Charles Mingus. He learned to play the sax as a youngster, and by the time he was in high school, he was playing local neighborhood parties and dances. And not long after graduating high school, Bernal was touring as part of Lionel Hampton’s band which at the time, included Little Jimmy Scott and Quincy Jones. He went on to form his own band which included Shelley Mann and Shorty Rogers. As an in-demand session player, Bernal played some of the most iconic sax solos on records by the likes of the Coasters, Ray Charles, Big Mama Thornton, and Duane Eddy. He also played in Spike Jones’ band for several years. And if that weren’t enough, Bernal could hold his own as a soulful singer as well. In 1967, his “The Eyes Of Love,” from the film Banning, was nominated for an Academy Award. And many of his other records, like “Can You Love A Poor Boy” and “To Make A Big Man Cry” are highly coveted by fans of Northern Soul. In recent years, Bernal was hand-picked by Ry Cooder to work with the Buena Vista Social Club as well as on Cooder’s 2005 release, Chavez Ravine. On July 17, 2011, Gil Bernal died of congestive heart failure. He was 80.