Audrey Bernstein is a phoenix with a life defined by no shortage of surprising ways to dazzle. From Manhattan to Hollywood, Audrey’s turns as nightlife impresario, organic baker (before there was such a thing), lifestyle blogger (ditto), event engineer, snowboarder titlist and now this, jazz singer, are only a few of the hats she’s donned, each one befitting her as chicly as the previous one.
That’s Audrey stretching out on the cover of Sonic Youth’s 1987 album “Sister.” Long before snowboarding was on the Olympics’s radar, Audrey was already competing, ranking third nationally and seventh worldwide. Back in downtown NYC, she pioneered the guest deejay phenom, putting Chloe Sevigny, Cibo Matto, the late Elliott Smith, Moby and Prince Paul behind the turntables; then she made karoake cool at a weekly party where a young Gaby Hoffmann, Samantha Ronson, Jimmy Fallon, Cat Power, Rufus Wainwright and even Michael Stipe could be found belting out pop standards. Many of them and others, such as Sofia Coppola, Spike Jonze, Jake Gyllenhaal, Maroon 5 and Mick Jagger similarly flocked to her party when she moved it west to Hollywood, at the legendary Les Deux, helmed by original founder Michelle Lamy, partner and wife of designer Rick Owens. Audrey transferred those powers to her Bluebird Bakery, then a before-its-time lifestyle website. (Many of the recipes from those days now appear on her jazz site, and its no surprise to find she’s offering an apron in time for Father’s Day!)
Audrey decamped for the slow living—and winter snowboarding—of Stowe, VT, in 2007, with her beloved bunny, Blue, in tow. There she found her soul in jazz, and took to the mike at parties and on the local circuit. Her vulnerable charms and gold stilettos notwithstanding, it’s the voice. Like “cognac over ice” is how a Los Angeles Times feature described it. Thanks to a Kickstarter initiative, with 85 backers, including members of Maroon 5 and the “Mad Men” studio jazz band, pledging $7,090 in 2014, Audrey was able to fund this second, absolutely fun album, “Alright, Okay, You Win.”
A+R: Your life has been a trip, professionally, culturally and personally. You went from the bright lights of the big cities of New York, then Hollywood, to slower paced living in Vermont. What do you love about this latest stop on your life adventure?
Audrey Bernstein: I love my garden in the summer, and skiing in the winter. I love taking my bunny into the garden and feeding him freshly pulled cilantro and basil. I don’t really care for Fall, known here as stick season; or Spring, mud season. I really missed the seasonal changes in L.A. I was always trying to make it seem like a picturesque winter there. I even turned my driveway in Silver Lake into a winter forest one year with 10 lighted Christmas trees. Patric Milani, David Erickson, George Kotsiopoulos, and Andrew Neuhues all came to dinner on Christmas Eve and I made them all put on my furs and we went in the Christmas forest and took pictures pretending to look cold—when it was actually 65 degrees outside!
A+R: Your achievements are as varied as they are creative, and they’ve always involved a wide variety of musical styles. So what is it about jazz that appeals to you?
AB: Jazz standards have this quality that stand up to time. They can be interpreted in so many ways. They never annoy me when I’m cooking. I can listen to them over and over again. They just strike me in this way that makes me feel perfect. I also love Bossa Nova in pretty much the same way, if you come to a party at my house in the summer it will be mostly old school bossa nova; in the winter mostly jazz standards.
A+R: Of the 9 tracks on your sophomore album, “Alright, Okay, You Win,” one stands out for not only its catchy hook and refrain, but because you wrote “Oh the Money” with your collaborator Joe Capps, who plays guitar and engineered, recorded and coproduced the album with you.
AB: I thought of “Oh the Money” at a gas station, while filling my car up on my way to a rehearsal. I saw the dollar amount owed flying by higher and higher on the gas tank and I said out loud to myself, “Oh the money.” I paused, then, to myself again, said, “it goes so fast.” I got my phone out and recorded much of it right there. Then I wrote the rest of it with Joe.
A+R: The album cover is very graphic. Can you talk a bit about how it came about?
AB: I used a large portion of the Kickstarter funds to get the album mastered, so I actually didn’t think I would have enough in my budget to do a photo session. The photo on the inside was taken by local high school students Talia Marek and Leenah Dawood as a project. I ended up loving their photos, but I had already spoken to my good friend and great artist Amy Jo Diaz in L.A., who had designed my first album. That album, “Audrey Bernstein Loves Blue,” featured mostly photographs that I adored by another old friend, this one from my New York days, Michael Lavine.
Amy Jo is such an amazing artist, I wanted her to be able to do more of her art than place photos and design some text. I had an idea of a New Yorker magazine look, but wasn’t sure how to incorporate the photos Talia and Leenah did. But when we made a video for NPR’s “Tiny Desk Concert” contest in March, I took a screen shot from one of the photos, and thought we looked a little like a New York skyline. I shared it with Amy Jo and urged her to do her magic.
The orange color is very hard to get exactly right, but it derives from many classic jazz albums that I love. It didn’t turn out looking like a New York skyline or New Yorker magazine…but it’s super cool! Also I figured most every female musician puts a big sexy photograph of themselves on the cover of their albums. That’s what I did for the first one, and it’s great. But I wanted to do something different. I wanted the musicians on there as well. Musician friends who see it love it because it isn’t a big sexy photo album cover.
A+R: Ok, have to ask…what is your favorite piece of design at A+R and why?
AB: Oh my God! I want everything in your store! But seeing that I’m a musician these days…I suppose it would have to be the Amp Lamp by Simon Legald (for Normann Copenhagen) because of their nod to vintage radio amplifiers.
Audrey Bernstein will be celebrating the release of her latest album, “Alright, Okay, You Win,” on Thursday, June 11, at the Hotel Vermont as part of the Discover Burlington Jazz Festival, and on Saturday, June 13, at the Listening Room at Caffe Vivaldi in New York, with more shows listed here.
Posted In: Entertaining, Music, Alright Okay You Win, Andrew Neuhues, Audrey Bernstein, Bossa Nova, Cat Power, Chloe Sevigny, Cibo Matto, David Erickson, Gaby Hoffmann, George Kotsiopoulos, Jake Gyllenhaal, jazz, jazz standards, Jimmy Fallon, Joe Capps, Kickstarter, L.A., Leenah Dawood, Les Deux, Los Angeles, Maroon 5, Michael Stipe c, Michelle Lamy, Mick Jagger, Moby, Patric Milani, Prince Paul, Rick Owens, Rufus Wainwright, Samantha Ronson, Sofia Coppola, Spike Jonze, Stowe, Talia Marek, the late Elliott Smith, Vermont