Losing Bernie Worrell to cancer last Thursday is indeed a sad event, but unlike Prince’s departure, we were given a heads-up that Worrell’s earthly end was near.
What makes me equally sad is the vast number of people who don’t know who Bernie Worrell was, and his influence on music.
Think about Alexander Pushkin’s enormous contributions to Modern Russian language.
Or Al-Ghazali’s influence on philosophy.
Only then are you able to dig Bernie Worrell’s impact.
Drummer Will Calhoun wasn’t flirting with hyperbole when he said that Worrell introduced a new language for keyboards.
It’s like we were okay — in fact, happy — with living in a world which communicated with 1,000 coherent sentences, and then someone came along and gave us a language of virtually endless expressions, inclusive of infections and emotions, thus rendering our old language quaint, but obsolete.
His contributions are more than memorable imprints in the beautiful African aesthetic continuum — Worrell’s supernova effect has left almost every musical genre more illuminated and forever changed.
NPR and the NY Times properly ran the voodoo down for people new to Worrell’s world and some outlets even reported how Worrell saw common threads within music genres. But those reports don’t go far enough to explain the depth of how Worrell hears music in everything he encounters.
I recall an email exchange I had with Judie Worrell, Bernie Worrell’s spouse, where she mentioned how Bernie hears music in the sound of trains, trucks, construction sites and nearly everything else he encounters.
This combination of “All music is connected” and “Everything is musical” explains why Worrell sounds like no one else. Listen to the ethereal “Atmosphere,” — one of many Funkadelic tunes he composed and played keyboards on, to experience a layered, Classical discipline combined with humor, Jazz, staccato chords, counterpoint statements plus cinematic horror — and that’s within the first two and a half minutes of the song before he spills into a meditative Soul and Funk music sequence that gradually invokes slivers of Prog Rock.
And you are treated to this sort of mind-bending sound on nearly every song where Worrell touches his instrument.
Although invisible to many, we’re all going to miss him …