2019 TMA149 Lifetime Achievement Award – Bernie Senensky

Bernie Senesky

With a successful career spanning 50 years, it is not possible to capture everything Bernie has done. Nonetheless, the following will serve to convey some of the highlights of his illustrious and ongoing career.



  • The Moe Koffman Quintet, multiple tours during the 1980s and 1990s throughout Canada, the USA (including the Monterey Jazz Festival), Switzerland (including the Montreaux Jazz Festival), England (including the Bracknell Jazz Festival), Australia, Brazil, Venezuela and Peru
  • Bowfire, Canada, USA, Mexico, Europe and the Far East, 2000 to 2015
  • Stefan Bauer/ Organic Ear Food, Germany, 2016 and 2018
  • Dave Young Quartet, Mexico and Chile, 2003 and 2005
  • The Galaxy Trio, USA and Canada, 2000 to 2003
  • Blood, Sweat & Tears, USA, 2008
  • Duke’s Best (featuring Jake Hanna), Germany, Switzerland and Austria, 1994
  • The Buddy DeFranco Quartet, Japan, 1991
  • (i) Buddy DeFranco, (ii) Herbie Mann and (iii) Moe Koffman, Germany, 1990
  • The Terry Gibbs Quartet, Norway, 1989
  • Peter Appleyard, England, Switzerland and Ireland, 1983


As well as performing with his own groups, many well-known artists have sought out Bernie in his capacity as a first-call accompanist in the Canadian club and concert scenes. In order to provide a sense of this, here is a listing of just some of the musicians with whom he has performed (and, in many instances, recorded as well) over the past several decades:

Saxophonists/Clarinetists: Art Pepper, Buddy DeFranco, Phil Woods, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, Sonny Stitt, Ravi Coltrane, Scott Hamilton, Pepper Adams, James Moody, Don Menza, Johnny Griffin, Frank Morgan, George Coleman, Eric Alexander, Nick Brignola, Pharoah Sanders, Gary Bartz, Clifford Jordan, Chris Potter, Lew Tabackin, Dave Liebman, Bobby Watson, Miguel Zenon, Sonny Fortune, Junior Cook, Harry Allen, Donald Harrison, Charles McPherson, Dan Faulk, Bob Mover, John Tank, Eugene Amaro, Mike Murley, Kirk McDonald, Pat LaBarbera, P. J. Perry, Alex Dean, Phil Dwyer, Bob Brough, Shawn Nykwist, Perry White, Jake, Koffman, Grant Stewart, Ryan Oliver

Trumpeters: Dizzy Gillespie, Art Farmer, Chet Baker, Maynard Ferguson, Clark Terry, Guido Basso, Kenny Wheeler, Randy Brecker, Blue Mitchell, Red Rodney, Sam Noto, Terrence Blanchard, Lew Soloff, Tom Harrell, Warren Vache, Jack Sheldon, Eddie Henderson, Donald Byrd, Jon Faddis, Pete Candoli, Herb Spanier, Fred Stone, John Macleod, Brian O’Kane, Steve McDade, Dave Dunlop, Kevin Turcotte, Kevin Dean, Mike Malone, Brian Chahley

Trombonists: Rob McConnell, Slide Hampton, Al Grey, Bill Watrous, Wycliffe Gordon, Russ Little, Terry Promane, William Carn

Guitarists: Ed Bickert, Lenny Breau, Sonny Greenwich, Reg Schwager, Lorne Lofsky, Ted Quinlan, Rob Pilch, Peter Leitch, Cornell Dupree, Barney Kessel, Larry Coryell, Joe Pass, Herb Ellis, Bucky Pizzarelli, Joe Cohn, Tisziji Munoz, Jake Langley, Roddy Ellias, Lucian Gray, Ben Bishop, Nathan Hiltz, Andy Scott, Joey Goldstein

Bassists: Dave Young, Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, Eugene Wright, Cecil McBee, Neil Swainson, Slam Stewart, Major Holley, Dennis Irwin, Ray Drummond, Keter Betts, Harvie Swartz, Rufus Reid, Eddie Gomez, Gene Perla, Todd Coolman, Don Pate, Michel Donato, Steve Wallace, Jim Vivian, Don Thompson, Kieran Overs, Joel Quarrington, Jodi Proznik, Andrew Downing, Pat Collins, Paul Novotny

Drummers: Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, Billy Cobham, Louis Bellson, Mel Lewis, Bob Moses, Marty Morell, Terry Clarke, Claude Ranger, Jerry Fuller, Don Alias, Rashied Ali, Jake Hanna, Marvin “Smitty” Smith, Joe Farnsworth, Akira Tana, Gerry Gibbs, Andre White, Brian Barlow, Norm Marshall Villeneuve, Barry Elmes, Morgan Childs, Barry Romberg, Ethan Ardelli, Archie Alleyne, Anthony Michelli

Vibists: Gary Burton, Terry Gibbs, Peter Appleyard, Don Thompson, Paul Hoffert, Stefan Bauer

Flutists: Moe Koffman, James Galway, Herbie Mann, Bill McBirnie

Violinists: Lenny Solomon, Drew Jureka, Lara St. John, Moshe Hammer

Vocalists: Joe Williams, Mark Murphy, Salome Bey, Abbey Lincoln, Sheila Jordan, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Anne-Marie Moss, Ernestine Anderson, Dakota Staton, Bobby Vinton, Charles Di Raimondo, Don Francks, Tommy Ambrose, Michael Dunston, John Alcorn, Arlene Smith, Aura Rully, Maureen Kennedy, Jocelyn Barth, Ori Dagan, Lynn MacDonald, Michele Mele, Gloria Loring, Ginette Reno, Catherine McKinnon, Laura Hubert, Heather Bambrick, Maxine Sullivan, Paula Shear,

Established Groups: Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, The Elvin Jones Quartet, The Maynard Ferguson Orchestra, The Moe Koffman Quintet, Rob McConnell & The Boss Brass, The Randy Brecker/Billy Cobham Quartet, The Herbie Mann/Al Grey All-Star Septet

Piano Duets: Oscar Peterson, Marian McPartland, Paul Hoffert, Robi Botos


  1. Bernie had the unusual distinction of performing on three separate occasions in the span of less than one year (2014-1015) at Canada’s world-renowned venue, Koerner Hall, in what were highly contrasting formats; (i) with Guido Basso as part of a Boss Brass Tribute, (ii) with Sir James Galway (and Bill McBirnie) as part of the 2014-2015 Opening Season Gala Concert and (iii) in Pianopalooza as a featured pianist. This prompted Executive Director, Mervon Mehta, to convey his personal and written congratulations to Bernie regarding this exceptional and noteworthy achievement.
  2. Bernie was duly honoured as a featured Canadian pianist on Marian McPartland’s renowned NPR series in the USA, “Piano Jazz”, in 1991.
  3. Bernie was the only Canadian ever to make a special guest appearance on the CTV national TV series, “Oscar Peterson Presents”, in 1975.
  4. Both alto saxophone legend, Art Pepper, and world-renowned drummer, Art Blakey (leader of The Jazz Messengers), were so impressed with Bernie’s work when he performed with them in Canada that both of them extended direct invitations to him to join their bands in the USA (though, in both instances, Bernie chose to remain in Canada).
  5. The Moe Koffman Tribute Band (which Bernie established in 2003) has been giving concerts throughout the province of Ontario for the past 15 years, always featuring alumni of the Moe Koffman Quintet (except for Bill McBirnie on flute and Jake Koffman—Moe’s grandson—on alto saxophone).


  • Bill Evans: “I could listen to him play all day.”
  • Elvin Jones: “One of the finest pianists I have worked with in my career.”
  • Oscar Peterson: “Bernie is one of my favourite local pianists and I really can’t understand why he hasn’t become better known.”
  • Oliver Jones: “[O]ne of my favourite Canadian artists and colleagues, Bernie Senensky,…a staple force on the Canadian jazz scene and very well respected in the music world for years…[A] brilliant and talented world-class pianist.”
  • Buddy DeFranco: “The best of the best!”
  • Mark Miller: “’Bernie’s tops as Dizzy bops’…Senensky’s solos throughout were voracious…wholly dazzling improvisations that covered the waterfront of style and technique…Senensky was there, every step of the way, pushing everyone to impressive heights.”
  • Boris Brott: “It is always a great privilege to have our festival associated with artists of your stature.”
  • Donald Harrison: “You have one of the best jazz piano players, anywhere, right here in your midst—Bernie Senensky!”
  • Morley Walker: “In a review of a Moe Koffman Quintet concert in Adelaide, Australia, Senensky was singled out as ‘an artist of world stature’”
  • Eric Snider: “…[A] jazz talent to be reckoned with. Like Chick Corea, he is one of the rare jazz performers to weld acoustic and electric forms easily and tastefully…very individualistic and unique…”
  • Lois Moody: “Pianist and composer Senensky rates as one of the most original and melodic writers in Canadian music and could make his mark anywhere. Music of durable interest and value, expertly performed.”
  • Owen Cordle: “He is not merely a stylist but a master of many styles”


As Leader (complete)

  • Invitation, 2011, (PM)
  • Homeland, 2000, (Timeless)
  • The Chalet Sessions, 1998, (Unity)
  • Rhapsody, 1996, (Timeless)
  • New Horizons, 1994, (Timeless)
  • Wheel Within A Wheel, 1993, (Timeless)
  • Re: Action, 1991, (Unity)
  • Fun & Games, 1989, (Unity)
  • Friday The 14th, 1987, (Unity)
  • Free Spirit, 1981, (PM)
  • New Life, 1976, (PM)

As Sideman (partial)

  • Tisziji Muñoz, Space of Fire, 2015, (Anami Music)
  • The Bill McBirnie Trio, Find Your Place, 2014, (Extreme Flute)
  • Organic, Live at Joe Mama’s, 2013, (Organic)
  • Bowfire, Live In Concert, 2011, (Frostbyte)
  • Bowfire, Holiday Heart Strings, 2010, (Frostbyte)
  • Ori Dagan, S’Cat Got My Tongue, 2010, (ScatCat Records)
  • Del Dako, My New Hat, 2007, (Dako Music)
  • Ryan Oliver, Convergence 2007, (Art of Life)
  • Michel Berube, This Christmas, 2006, (Universal Music)
  • Michele Mele, Feel, 2006, (Michele Mele)
  • The Bill McBirnie Duo/Quartet, Paco Paco, 2006, (Extreme Flute)
  • The Andrew Scott Quartet, This One’s For Barney, 2004, (Sackville)
  • Bowfire, Bowfire, 2003, (Marquis Classics/EMI)
  • Tisziji Munoz, Sky Worlds: Heaven Born, 2002, (Anami Music)
  • Aura, I Found Love Again, 2001, (Electrecord)
  • Tony Quarrington, One Bright Morning, 2000, (Cordova Bay)
  • Arlene Smith, Until Today, 2000, (Fusion III)
  • The Galaxy Trio, The Galaxy Trio, 1999, (Marquis Classics/EMI)
  • Tisziji Munoz, Mountain Peak, 1998, (Anami Music)
  • The Art Pepper Quartet, Live In Toronto, 1998, (NOCD)
  • Del Dako, Vindaloo, 1998, (MXR)
  • Tisziji Munoz, Spirit World, 1997, (Anami Music)
  • Stefan Bauer, Coast to Coast, 1997, (Igmod)
  • The Moe Koffman Quintet, Devil’s Brew, 1996, (Duke Street)
  • Compilation, From The Heart—A Tribute To Oscar Peterson, 1995, (Radioland)
  • The Moe Koffman Quintet, Plays, 1990, (Duke Street)
  • The Moe Koffman Quintet (with Dizzy Gillespie), Oop Pop A Da, 1988, (Duke Street)
  • Tisziji Munoz, Visiting This Planet, 1988, (Anami Music)
  • The Moe Koffman Quintet, Moe-Mentum, 1987, (Duke Street)
  • The Moe Koffman Quintet, One Moe Time, 1986, (Duke Street)
  • The Moe Koffman Quintet, Live At The Science Centre, 1986, (Jazz.FM91)
  • Peter Appleyard, Prelude To A Kiss, 1982, (RCA)
  • Joe Coughlin, Joe Coughlin, 1981, (JC)
  • Tisziji Munoz, Rendezvous With Now, 1979, (Anami Music)
  • Peter Appleyard, Peter Appleyard Presents, 1977, (Capitol/EMI)
  • Ed Bickert/Don Thompson/Doug Riley/Pat LaBarbera/Bernie Senensky, From Canada With Love, 1976, (PM)
  • Eugene Amaro, Twilight Time, 1975, (United Artists)
  • Salome Bey, Salome Bey, 1970, (Quality)


  • Juno Nominee
  • Best Traditional Jazz Album, New Horizons, 2000
  • Best Mainstream Jazz Album, Wheel Within A Wheel, 1994
  • Best Jazz Album, Friday The 14th, 1990
  • Jazz Report Awards Winner
  • Best Jazz Pianist, 1999
  • Best Jazz Pianist, 1995
  • Best Jazz Composition (“Blues For Clifford”), 1999

A letter from Bill McBirnie regarding Bernie Senensky

Let me begin by saying, it is impossible to capture everything Bernie has done after an illustrious career spanning some 50 years. Suffice it to say, Bernie has never failed to distinguish himself, as well as the musicians he has played with, on both the national and international fronts. So it is easiest for me to confine myself to my own experience with Bernie.

When I first moved to Toronto in 1972, I would often be in the clubs where Bernie was a formidable and ubiquitous presence. I can still remember, vividly, the very first time I ever saw him which was at the Global Village accompanying vocalist, Salome Bey. I was completely knocked out, and he has been an inspiration to me ever since.

Of course, Bernie was Moe Koffman’s keyboard player for close to 20 years (and, once again, I am at pains to point out that this is merely one facet of his career). So I would hear both of them regularly at George’s Spaghetti House throughout the 70s (though I was nothing more than an adoring and anonymous fan).

In 2003, Bernie established the Moe Koffman Tribute Band, and I was shocked when he recruited me to serve as the flute player (which was certainly a privilege and, if truth be told, an intimidating one at that). Anyway, when people started to ask me what it was like for me to play with Bernie, I would say, “Well, the first thing I learned is I that have to be able to play fast; the second thing I learned is that I have to be able to play even faster; and the third thing I learned is that I have to be able to play even faster yet!”

All kidding aside, being in the Moe Koffman Tribute Band gave rise to my working with Bernie in other situations, and then segued into recording with him. In fact, Bernie has graced three of my own albums (Paco Paco and The Silent Wish on piano, and Find Your Place on the Hammond B3). In each instance, he succeeded in making me sound a whole lot better than I did before. (…You can read that sentence again, if you like…)

Anyway, after so many years of working with Bernie, he never ceases to amaze me because, so often on a gig, he comes up with things I’ve never heard him play before.

Of course, Bernie and I have performed many of his compositions as well, amongst which is “Paco Paco” (a perennial favourite, not to mention a perennial challenge). Once when I was leader on the gig, I asked Bernie on stage where he got the name, Paco Paco”. Both the audience and I were surprised to learn that he actually wrote it for the son of drummer Marty Morrell (whose name is Paco) and that, because the tune was originally written for two flutes, Bernie decided to call it…“Paco Paco”…He then proceeded to regale us with Moe’s conviction that, “Bernie wrote this tune for the day when musicians would get paid by the note!”

This is but a small—and quite personal—fragment of Bernie’s career. However, it should serve to underscore what I think everyone will agree is a well-deserved, fitting—and perhaps even long overdue—honour.

Bill McBirnie