Jazz guitarist Peter Bernstein was born September 3, 1967, in New York City. He got his first break while attending the New School when he met Jim Hall, who recruited him for a concert of guitarists as part of the 1990 JVC Jazz Festival in New York. The show was recorded by MusicMasters and issued as Live at Town Hall, Vol. 2. Bernstein quickly began playing with other jazz musicians, notably appearing on albums by Lou Donaldson, Michael Hashim, Larry Goldings, Mel Rhyne, Jesse Davis, and Geoff Keezer. He recorded his first album as a leader, Somethin's Burnin', for Criss Cross on December 22, 1992, as part of quartet with Brad Mehldau (piano), John Webber (bass), and Jimmy Cobb (drums). After working with such artists as Patti Page, Walt Weiskopf, Brian Lynch, Laverne Butler, Eric Alexander, and Hendrik Meurkens in 1993-1994, he issued his second solo album, Signs of Life, on May 2, 1995, working again with Mehldau, along with Christian McBride (bass) and Gregory Hutchinson (drums). Further work as a sideman with Ghetto Philharmonic, Trudy Desmond, Teodross Avery, Joshua Redman, Kevin Mahogany, Grant Stewart, and Mike LeDonne preceded the release of his third album, Brain Dance, on June 24, 1997. This time, he led a quintet also containing Goldings (organ), Eric Alexander (tenor saxophone), Steve Davis (trombone), and Billy Drummond (drums). Prior to his fourth album, Earth Tones, Bernstein recorded with Ralph Lalama and Eric Comstock, among others. Earth Tones, issued August 25, 1998, found him fronting a trio with Goldings and Bill Stewart (drums).
Five years elapsed before the release of Heart's Content, Bernstein's fifth album as a leader, and he occupied the time working with a wide variety of musicians including Tom Aalfs, Group 15, Jimmy Cobb's Mob, David Bubba Brooks, Doug Lawrence, Sam Yahel, David Morgan, Jon Gordon, Michael Karn, Spike Wilner, Anna Lauvergnac, Harry Allen, Paula West, Nicholas Payton, Etta Jones, Béla Szakcsi Lakatos, Lee Konitz, Klaus Doldinger, and Ralph Bowen. Heart's Content, which was released May 27, 2003, was credited to "Peter Bernstein + 3," and the three were Mehldau, Bill Stewart, and Larry Grenadier (bass). The same year the album appeared, Bernstein could be heard on albums by Ryan Kisor, Wycliffe Gordon, Janis Siegel, and Martin Sasse, among others. Stranger in Paradise, Bernstein's sixth album, was released June 8, 2004, by the Japanese Tokuma label, and employed the same lineup as that on Heart's Content. In addition to musicians with whom he had recorded before, Bernstein appeared on albums by Jim Rotondi and Dr. Lonnie Smith in 2004 and Kathy Kosins in 2005. On August 23, 2005, Mel Bay released the DVD Peter Bernstein Trio Live at Smoke, taped at a jazz club on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
Among his many sideman sessions in the mid-2000s, Bernstein added dates with Joe Magnarelli, Alvin Queen, Planet Jazz, Anton Schwartz, John Pisano, David "Fathead" Newman, Don Friedman, Cory Weeds, and Andrew Suvalsky to the list of his credits, along with repeat appearances with others. On January 13, 2009, the newly reactivated Xanadu label released Bernstein's seventh album, Monk, a tribute to Thelonious Monk featuring all Monk compositions. Although Monk was a pianist, of course, the Bernstein recording was made with a pianoless trio consisting of himself, Doug Weiss (bass), and Bill Stewart. ~ William Ruhlmann, Rovi