(Bernie Brightman-born Jan. 24, 1921 – died Nov. 9, 2003 of lung cancer, he was 82)

Viper Mad Bernie Brightman

Viper Mad Bernie Brightman

Rest In Peace Bernie, you are gone but not forgotten…

 

Bernard Brightman founded the Stash record label in 1975 as a producer of both reissues and brand new sessions. Stash first release nothing but collections of vintage recordings on the topics of sex and drugs, especially sex and marijuana. At first, Brightman focused his efforts on the chosen subject matter from the 1920s and 30s, or at least whatever songs that did not have any copyright holder. Stash Records released its first album, “Reefer Songs”, in 1976. It was than followed by “Copulation‘ Blues,” a collection of sex songs. The music compiled on Bernie’s first two albums came from an extensive jazz collection amassed by a long time friend named Roy Roisman and the art work was done by his wife Ronnie Roisman. Later in his career Brightman released albums by new jazz artists, including pianist Hilton Ruiz. He also continued to issue vintage material under his label, including previously unheard archival recordings by Charlie Parker.

I contacted Bernie in 2003 while conducting research on Mezz Mezzrow and how he rolled his famous mezzrol joint. I had come across several Bernard Brightman interviews in which he discussed the jazz scene and smoking marijuana during the early 1900′s, and in doing so mentioned his knowledge of Mezzrow’s rolling method. When I contacted him he had already been diagnosed with lung cancer and was undergoing chemo, but between treatments when he was feeling good, he was gracious enough to spend some of his last time on earth responding to my letters. I found him to be a very nice and knowledgeable man with a lot of first hand experiences concerning jazz music and marijuana use in the early 1900′s. I would like to share some of his job experience,  musical background, life experiences and a document that sheds light on a slight date discrepancy between two Brightman interviews (taken from my letters between Feb. 27th, 2003 & Aug. 11, 2003).

To start with, while doing research on Mezz Mezzrow I came across 3 key publications containing an interview with Bernard Brightman:

  • Reefer Madness, by Larry Sloman, first edition 1979, Brightman interview pp 90-101.
  • Confessions of a Viper, How Harlem got high in the old days, by Bernie Brightman as told to Larry Sloman, from High Times, May 1979, pp 53-56.
  • Hep-Cats. Narcs, and Pipe Dreams, A History of America’s Romance With Illegal Drugs, by Jill Jonnes, first edition 1996, Brightman interview p 124.

My interview questions were based on my need for more information after reading the above cited publications:

QUESTION: Could you give me a description of your musical background and job history?

ANSWER: “Complicated, studied at Carnegie Hall with a Wurlitzer 500 sax. Played clarinet after WW2. Studied with Eric Simon who also taught classical to Benny Goodman. Got a Selma Alto sax from French bandleader who was flipped for Harlem and black women. He had a band in Paris at the Lindo. I got the sax for money I loaned him. Pre WW2 shipping clerk. 1946 door to door pitchrman. 1947-1971 hand bags big corp. world. Except 1 year underground for the communist party. 1975-1993 ran 5 labels and a mail-order operation [Stash Records].”

QUESTION: How old were you when the picture in the High Times article was taken?

ANSWER: 19

QUESTION: Stated that you were born in 1921. What was the day and month?

ANSWER: Jan 24, 1921

QUESTION: The first time you got high was in the Savoy bathroom when?

ANSWER: Age 15 1/2 in 1936. First we bought a small bottle of King Kong-Harlem Rotgut. Then Roy Roisman got us 2 joints for a quarter. We found out he got one for himself.

 

Bernie was also gracious enough to describe in detail how to roll a mezzroll joint, even going so far as to provided an example, but since this page is all about him I will leave the rolling details for my book.

Uncle Mike

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