December 27, 2012

Welcome to the Wooniverse


---- — BURLINGTON — Bernie Worrell.

Child prodigy. Juilliard. New England Conservatory of Music. Chubby & the Turnpikes. Maxine Brown. Parliament-Funkadelic. Talking Heads. Woo Warriors. Bernie Worrell Orchestra. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.


The Wizard of Woo sprinkles his magical keys in more genres than you can shake a good witch’s wand at, and you, too, can get funked up with a jazzy twist Sunday at Club Metronome in Burlington.

Worrell’s perfect-pitch sonics, infused with the classical canon, still amaze the Woo-ed and novices.

For his latest configuration, he had no vision for the Bernie Worrell Orchestra: Andrew Kimball (guitar), Kyle Cadena (guitar), Scott Hogan (bass), Glen Fittin (percussion), Evan Taylor (drums/bandleader), Shlomi Cohen (alto sax), Ofer Asaf (tenor sax) and Justin Mullens (trumpet).

“Evan Taylor is a young and upcoming producer,” Worrell said. “He approached management to see if I would be interested. I said, I don’t know; I’ll think about it. Then, I said yes. We met and I said, OK. I’ll try it. I don’t consider myself a jazz player. Everyone said, ‘Oh, Bernie stop.’”

His life unfolds divinely from his Jersey Shore beginnings.

“That’s the way God wanted it. That’s the way it is.”

He lived in Long Branch, when his mother, Cora, started him on the piano at age 3.

“She recognized the talent at the time and tried to find someone to teach me. She could play enough to accompany herself. She sang in the church choir. She taught me scales. I played perfect pitch every day.”

Piano instructors were reluctant to take on a toddler — except Adelaide Waxwood, who became his godparent, along with her husband.


As far as classical composers, he leans toward Mozart, Debussy and Ravel.

“I like everybody. People ask who is the best? God is the best. Everyone contributes whatever they bring to the table.”

When he finished conservatory, he served as Maxine Brown’s musical director for several years.

“It was just another phase of accompaniment. I used to accompany classes and recitals. That was another art form to be able to accompany a vocalist or instrumentalist.”


After parting ways with the soul singer, Worrell, packed clavinet and Minimoog synthesizer and entered the parallel universe of George Clinton, P-Funk mastermind.

“I met George at the barbershop when I used to sneak the out the window to get my hair processed in the day. He was one of the people my mom didn’t want me to hang with. As soon as I got old enough … I’m a rebel. They had heard about this kid who moved to town. That was the first meeting.”

Clinton grew up in Plainfield, where he straightened hair and constructed his vibrant-locked funk.

“What is funk?” Worrell said. “It’s a feeling. You cannot put it into words. It’s the rhythm that comes from Africa.”

Clinton told Worrell that when he could afford him, he would send for him.

“I was in Maxine’s group. Judie called and said George wanted to have a meeting at the Apollo Theater.”

It was the end of the Detroit riots, and Clinton wanted him to relocate with his band.

“We made the move, and the rest is history.”

Seminal hits such as “Flashlight,” “Atomic Dog” and “Aqua Boogie” powered P-Funk’s 1997 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

“I was the band leader and musical director. George and I were the primary writers until Bootsy (Collins) came.”


Worrell was a musical revolutionary and evolutionist, but as an officer on the Mothership ...

“I never dreamed of anything like that,” he said. “It’s a trip, a journey and now looking back, I still say wow. We were working to pay bills. We never knew it would be that big. Looking back, I guess we did something.”

Email Robin Caudell:

IF YOU GO WHAT: Bernie Worrell Orchestra. Openers include Funkwagon, Serotheft, Kat Wright and A2VT. WHEN: 8:30 p.m. Sunday. WHERE: Club Metronome, 188 Main St., Burlington, Vt. ADMISSION: $12 advance and $15 day of show. PHONE: (802) 865-4563.