When Corey E. Bernhard ’05 (Economics Concentrator in Cabot House) was in first grade, his mother never imagined that he would come to be one of Harvard’s premier Jazz musicians. “We had a piano in the house, and I would take a hammer and hit the keys with [it].” If he were going to continue to play the piano, his mother declared that he would have to take piano lessons.
Now a senior, Corey has retired his hammer and plays with various bands in the Boston area, but he cites his time with the Kuumba Singers of Harvard College as being one of his more important and fruitful commitments. He began playing with Kuumba out of coincidence. While playing a gig with a singer in Boston, he was spotted by the former leader of the Kuumband who asked him to play on their spring break tour. This year he has become the leader of the band and he describes emphatically that his experience with the Kuumband and the choir has been “the single most amazing thing that has helped me grow as a musician.” For him, Kuumba epitomizes the key connection between performance, emotion and musicianship, “playing and performing with Kuumba brings an emotional and spiritual depth to the music that I hadn't experienced, and probably won't again . . . with Kuumba you have to go deeper than the notes. You can't fight it.”
Corey has shared his talents throughout the world as he recently had the opportunity to travel and tour in Ghana with the professional funk/reggae/soca band “Soulfége” founded by Harvard graduate Derrick N. Ashong ’96. His experiences in Ghana showed him the cross-cultural potential of music, “Music is a language, and as you become more and more fluent, you can connect with people in a really wonderful way...even [with] people you haven't even met on a personal level yet.” After a particularly good jam session, he describes the rapport and old-friend like bond that develops between musicians, “just cause you've hit the groove right.”
In another interesting turn of events, he was invited to direct the Boston based band One Luv and appeared on their album. When asked about his own band, The C-Note Project, he chuckles, “[The C-Note Project] is an excuse to get together with friends and awesome musicians. Covering R&B and Classic Soul tunes, the band consists of other Harvard jazz musicians that he met while playing in Harvard’s small jazz scene. At the beginning of the school year, the band had a regular gig at the Harvard Square bar Grafton Street, but Corey is hoping to revive them while continuing to compose his own music.
His original compositions are based in jazz but are laced with hints of R & B and Hip Hop. He still loves jazz but reasons that “he got sick of playing music my friends didn’t know.”
Music is clearly a way of life for Corey and he plans to continue his endeavors after graduation, and with Corey hoping to revive his stint at Grafton, Harvard will surely be hearing a lot more of his piano playing.