SOMETHING ABOUT THE GIRL: AUDREY BERNSTEIN
Written by Rose Apodaca 2015
Untold stories above Hollywood Boulevard, inside a hotel penthouse with a great balcony alighting guests from the neon billboards just a grasp away, the singer, all curly strawberry blonde and joyful eyes, has the party under her spell.
Her vulnerable charms and red stilettos notwithstanding, it’s the voice. Like “cognac over ice” is how a Los Angeles Times feature described it. And given the natty turnout jostling into the suite, you'd half expect to see Don Draper swirling the cubes in his own tumbler. But the “Mad Men” in the house tonight are that show’s creator Mathew Weiner, holding court in this fabulous crowd choc-a-block with the town’s culturati, along with the series’ musicians, keeping rhythm behind tonight's featured star, Audrey Bernstein, as she pours another hit.
The evening marks another triumph for this phoenix with no shortage of surprising ways to dazzle. From downtown New York to this corner of Los Angeles, 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.
Like her singing, there is something frisky and dulcet about Audrey. She is always perfectly on point, yet what she does never feels studied. This is one bona fide quirky gal. Her bohemian spirit is wrapped up in vintage glamour. She is an unfeigned original. The dexterous phrasing that now flows from those red lips mirrors the effortless, insightful ability she formerly showed at compiling eclectic knowns and unknowns to her legendary parties or whatever she put her mind to in Manhattan or Hollywood.
When she arrived in Los Angles in late 2000, we all scored for the next three years with her exclusive Monday night party Cachet, which helped make the Le Deux Café the only place to be for the likes of Sofia Coppola, Spike Jonze, Kirsten Dunst, Mick Jagger, Courtney Love, Cameron Diaz, Vincent Gallo and more. When Le Deux’s owner Michele Lamy and her designer husband Rick Owens left for Paris because of his fashion career, Audrey surprised everyone by becoming the co-founding baker of the Bluebird Bakery in Culver City in 2004. Aside from pre-empting the cupcake craze by about a year, she astutely opened Bluebird around the corner from the celebrity and fashion photography studios Smashbox, also home to the runways of the then-happening Los Angeles Fashion Week. The same fashion and film industry folks who clamored to her nightspots were eating out of Audrey’s hand once again, this time literally and with her signature butter frosting on top.
When Audrey and her partners split a year later, there was little time for boredom. She was quickly enlisted as the creative director of a new nightclub and restaurant; named West Coast ambassador of the Brit pharmacy brand Boots, which was just entering the North American market; started a jazz band with former Geffen Company president Eric Eisner; and rallied many of the film and fashion professionals whom she also counted as friends to help behind and in front of the lens when she launched “Oh Audrey!,” an early blog, complete with five-minute webisodes, showcasing cooking, crafts and lifestyle advice.
Audrey was more Lucille Ball than Martha Stewart, which came as no surprise to her family. Making her parents and sister laugh was how she coped with her challenging days at school in the colonial town of Frederick, MD. Audrey never felt like she fit in among the All-American cheerleaders or other popular girls. “I had a curly hair. I was Jewish. I was the freak,” she recalls. She also had an itch to sing or act. But performing remained a daydream, at least into the next decade.
Whatever insecurities she harbored she left behind when, at age 19, the East Village’s No Wave scene beckoned. There she found her self and her tribe, one that included singer-poet Lydia Lunch, performance artist Kembra Pfahler, photographer Richard Kern and art curator Aaron Rose. That’s Audrey stretching out on the cover of Sonic Youth’s 1987 album "Sister." As fun and essential as it all remains in her development, heroin also colored her reality. So in 1987, Audrey decamped for Vermont and found salvation in the burgeoning sport of snowboarding. She trained locally and in Europe, began competing and ended up on the pro tour. Within a couple of years, Audrey reached third nationally and seventh worldwide.
But the life of a snowboarder has its limits and by the mid-1990s, she returned to Manhattan. A party for her TK birthday at club E&O turned into a weekly night called Mothra, with Audrey rallying friends to deejay, including Cibo Matto, the late Elliott Smith and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. A weekly karaoke party followed at the Elbow Room, where Moby, Cat Power (aka Chan Marshall) or Michael Stipe could be found belting out a pop standard (or, in the case of David Lee Roth, one he already recorded!).
Audrey also first took to the mike during this time, accompanying the short-lived, downtown jangle rockers Douce Gimlet around 1998. Suffice it to say, the genie was out. Two years later she was in L.A., but the urge to step out of the role of host into singer never went away.
For Audrey, it’s always about creating a scene where guests and entertainers intermingle and even become interchangeable. The ultimate is creating a “sparkly feeling," she says, between the twinkling candles, the bubbling conversations and a communal desire not to let it all end.
Thankfully, going to Stowe, VT, in 2007 finally availed Audrey the renewed creative space and new collaborators to get her jazz on. What began as a six-month extended break from city life to convalesce after a couple of back surgeries brought about another incarnation. Friends convinced her to sit in with a band at an afternoon party, and what began as a terrifying whim quickly transformed Audrey’s life.
The late Summer 2013 evening with the “Mad Men” band at the W Hotel Penthouse in Hollywood marked not only a return west, albeit only for a few days. It served as celebration of her debut album, “Audrey Bernstein Loves Blue.” Blue is the lucky rabbit receiving a generous heaping of Audrey’s affections, and the collection of nine classic jazz standards completely realized by a Kickstarter campaign—and the championing and campaigning by Audrey’s wide swath of long-time friends, including James Valentine of Maroon 5, The Chapin Sisters, Tatiana Von Furstenberg and Amy Fleetwood.
Fundraising friends and Kickstarter paved the way again for a second round for Audrey’s latest, the Summer 2015 sophomore release of “Alright, Okay, You Win.” So, too, did some two-dozen supportive musician pals, who Audrey affectionately calls the Jazzers. Among them is returning guitarist Joe Capps and, on the horns, Ray Vega and Joey Sommerville, who recently observed: “Audrey’s pitch and tone are impeccable. But it’s the emotional content that comes through. I believe her when she’s singing.” Joey hits it a bullseye when he points out, “it’s a genuine artistic communication with her, not one that’s scripted or choreographed. Audrey is a very sincere artist.”
And so it is that this born hostess’ sincerity comes through even on the apron that a couple of L.A. friends designed to tie in with the worldwide release of “Alright Okay You Win.”
Music, entertaining and cooking are central to the Audrey Bernstein experience. Of course, those of us in L.A. are, at this writing, still patiently awaiting the news she’ll be heading west for a summer gig or more. She always was and still is the heart and soul of the party.
Joe Capps - Guitar
John Rivers - Bass
Geza Carr - Drums
Tom Cleary - Piano
Ray Vega - Horns
Joey Sommerville - Horns
Michael Zsoldos - Saxophone
Sean Harkness - Guitar
Steve Doyle - Bass
Brian Charette - Piano
Daniel Glass - Drums
Rob Morse - Bass
Paul Asbell - Guitar
Geoff Stradling - Piano
George Pettit - Guitar
Peter Krag - Piano
Dan Skea - Piano
Chris Peterman - Saxophone
Andrew Morose - Horns, Keyboard
Shane Hardyman - Keyboard
Jeff Salisbury - Drums
George Voland - Trombone
Will Patton - Bass
Don Schabner - Guitar
Gabe Jarrett - Drums