About Bobby Broom
Posts by Bobby Broom:
The other day I got a message on Facebook asking this question. It’s a good one, but not one that I’m asked that much. When I was trying to figure it out for myself, it was the biggest concern and dilemma in my musical life.
Back then I was doing tons of daily listening to all kinds of records by the jazz masters, trying to figure out how it was done by hearing it being done. I realized that the most frequent points of occurrence of commonly used “jazz language” (phrases that I had started to recognize as common to and played by just about everyone who could play changes), were over 2, 5, 1s. Once I noticed that, then I started listening for these “lines” in every tune’s chord changes (where were the 2, 5, 1s?) and from every player (what melodic lines were they playing at those points)?
At that point for me the task became two-fold: 1) To understand common chord progressions and to be able to play them as accompaniment (comp) and “play with” them (comp whimsically and freely) and 2) to be able to play over them melodically at the points where they occurred (play solo lines). #1 meant learning (memorizing) songs. Ones that were common to jazz players (and students), like Satin Doll, My Romance, The Days of Wine and Roses, Stella…, Blues, Rhythm Changes, etc. Within these tunes I’d realize the differences between 2, 5, 1s in major and minor Keys. I’d also get familiar with various common chord progressions:
5 – 1, 2 – 5 – 1, 1 – 6 – 2 – 5, 3 – 6 – 2 – 5, 4major – 4minor – 3-6 – 2-5 – 1, etc.
These changes are in all the standards and I realized intuitively that I had to be able to hear, understand and even anticipate them in an instant. With that ability, I could hear and play the changes to standard tunes that I I’d never played before and/or, didn’t really know. I tell my students all the time, you can only improvise as well as you can comp (or hear harmony). The whole technical point musically of jazz improvisation is to interpret songs by depicting their chord progressions using instantaneously “composed” melodies.
Which brings me to task #2: The jazz language is just that, a language or a collection of melodies (some call them lines, phrases or licks), many that have remained and/or have been developed and evolved over jazz’s 100+ year history. Knowing and playing them (verbatim or in essence) is the declaration of a player’s allegiance to the jazz culture – its history, practices and underlying, original meanings, feelings and purposes. (More on that later.) When I was trying to figure out how to “play through changes,” the main thing that I wanted to do was to play lines like I heard them played on the records, in the right places (the correct harmonic situations) and with the right feeling and intention. In order to become fluid and to sound natural meant that I had to have at least a few melodic phrases that sounded like 2 – 5 (or 5) going to a major chord resolution. Likewise, I needed minor key resolution 2 – 5 (or 5 altered) sounding phrases, as well as lines that sounded like a major chord and ones that illustrated a minor chord, etc.
Putting the #1 and 2 components together was (and is) what “playing” is all about. The development, maintenance and quest for variety and freedom within one’s vocabulary can last a lifetime. However, first we should learn and understand that oftentimes, one note will make the color of the chord just perfectly and if we can hear how to “move around” using (hearing) just individual notes appropriately, we can play changes in that most simple, yet beautifully melodic way. In fact, that is the cornerstone of playing lines, phrases and patterns successfully through changes: being able to hear which note(s) to start and end phrases with – which note will connect me to my next idea, the next chord or line? Playing, no matter how complex (or fancy sounding) is only as tasteful as the choice of notes that start and finish phrases. If that philosophy is the foundation of your solos, then even at a fairly novice level you can make correct and pleasing choices of colors (notes) over chords. After that, no matter how much more you advance, the driving force of your playing will always be governed by that simple, musically intelligent, core aesthetic value.
There is something about this performance that speaks to one aspect of the history of America’s relationship to African American culture and vice versa.
On display here are two eternal forces, both mothership vessels, one that carries black life itself and the other, the symbolic essence of that life with its past and present of degradation, to resilience, to freedom through creativity and self-expression.
It is especially powerful that the forces are joined here, Black woman/mother and Black music, embodied in the iconic figure, Aretha Franklin. Seen here is the triumph of the African American spirit—the historic Black aesthetic, the musical and spiritual expression of a cultural experience—as well as the reverence and awe of those that bear witness to its majesty and bask in the glory of momentary bliss that it has created since it was first used as a means of sheer survival.
In Carol King, there is the example of the empathetic fellow human being, one who participates freely and unreservedly and champions the cause as well as its messenger. An evolved soul such as hers can embrace and absorb the influence, unintimidated, and create significantly in her own way, to the degree of greatness. However, she will never feel too elite, entitled or ashamed to admit the importance of that influence, or to openly display her emotional reaction to it.
What is most meaningful, in addition to Mrs. Franklin’s performance itself (which is really beyond words in its beauty, weight and significance), is the audience’s reaction to it. Rarely in this day and age do the masses take part in such impromptu and unfettered ‘call and response’. There was no time here for music-business exploitation, misappropriation, redirection, elitist validation, institutionalization, codification, commercialization, or any other attempt to control. The only available moments were those between the beats of hearts, the sounds of ears, the falling tears and the clapping of hands.
Transcript and addendum from the YouTube video, Bobby Broom on Wes Montgomery’s 1959 Jazz Guitar Impact:
“Much has been made of the year 1959 in the history of Jazz music. It’s been called its most prolific year. It’s been called the year Jazz died. In any case, the recordings such as Ornette Colman’s Shape of Jazz to Come Charles Mingus’ Ah Um, Dave Brubeck’s Time Out, at least indicated the diversity in the terrain of the music and was also a foreshadowing of more diversity to come.
One figure that is grossly ignored, and significant to this year 1959 in Jazz, is the iconic Wes Montgomery, the guitarist from Indianapolis who emerged in 1959 with his first trio record of his fellow Indianapolis band mates. The name of the record was A Dynamic New Sound for Guitar, Organ and Drums. It ushered in a figure that became one of the most celebrated, if not the most celebrated, on the instrument in Jazz music.
[That recording] began an illustrious career which ended in an untimely fashion in 1968. Just a couple of years prior to Wes’ death, he reached crossover stardom by creating instrumental hits of popular music, and was probably at that time the biggest selling Jazz artist.
Wes introduced a brand new approach to playing the guitar. Techniques that were really unexplored before him. The octave technique (that you hear behind me) and his chord melody and chord soloing playing still is today unmatched, and definitely a revelation to Jazz guitar playing.
So, when mention is made of 1959, I just can’t help but include him. He is, to me, being a guitar player, as important [a figure] as the rest.”
In addition to Wes Montgomery’s groundbreaking guitar techniques, sublimely tasteful musicianship and upper-echelon prowess as a jazz improviser, he also held cards which in the jazz game would normally solidify any holder a position in the rankings of genius. The first of these aces was the position of the master artist/band leader. Like Miles Davis and John Coltrane, both contemporaries of Wes’, he possessed a singular voice on his instrument—one that he could imbue onto any canvas and backdrop, to create his own personal masterpiece. Moreover, he was an astute band leader, who like his aforementioned peers, chose master sidemen to shape the sound of the whole of his groups. Under his direction, the refined chamber group arrangements and stellar soloing of each individual in his Wes Montgomery Trio (which included another highly underrated , organist Melvin Rhyne), displayed the highest level, true depth of character and compelling nature of the most powerful and effective force in jazz music, the ensemble.
The next of Montgomery’s invaluable assets, was that of of his skills as composer. Many of the greatest names in the history of jazz music were not only iconoclastic improvisors, but also left compositions which have gone on to become jazz standards, repeatedly reinterpreted by future generations of jazz musicians. Wes left us at least three indelible, original tunes. Four on Six, Road Song and West Coast Blues have been covered often over the years, but there are other lesser-known gems that are also formidable— Full House, S.O.S. and Twisted Blues.
All things considered, in review of his impact on: a) public response to his general musical output and b) his effect on how his instrument is perceived (among both musicians and the general public), Montgomery belongs among the highest class of the jazz instrumentalist. And certainly, Wes Montgomery is easily the most qualified candidate for a guitarist in Jazz’s Mount Rushmore.
In this moment in my musical life things are good and I take absolutely none of it for granted.
The fact that I’ve had the chance to play organ–trio jazz with the Bobby Broom Organi-Sation for thousands of people per night, opening for Steely Dan in arenas, amphitheaters and concert halls all over North America, all summer long, is still somewhat surreal to me when I think about it.
But the fact of the matter is that, after doing it now for two summers, it is very real. Real in the sense that I have to get up in about six hours to drive for four to the next city for the concert tomorrow night. The show tonight was really good and so now I find myself having to wind down for the several hours that it takes… We’re into week eight of this eleven week tour. Yeah, sometimes I get lonely, cranky, tired… but in some strange, crazy way, I kinda don’t look forward to this ending.
I was built for this life. It started in my 20s when I began traveling—first with Hugh Masakela, then Dave Grusin and finally Sonny Rollins—back when there were astronomical international phone bills and no Skype, cell phones, internet or cable TV. Damn. A person actually had to rough it with a book, a beer, social interaction, or solitude. Imagine that? Anyway, it’s so much easier now, but still not the life for many.
When the music is right, I feel at my best out here. When the music is not right, I can feel as lost as I do sometimes when I’m at home and I have no idea how the next opportunity will arise. This is why it’s hard for me to express the gratitude that I feel right now.
The music is flowing such that, even if I don’t play my best, the band as a whole sounds and feels good. As the opening act on a major tour, the group is being adopted with applause and cheers from huge audiences that, by the end of our set, seem genuinely happy and enthused that we were there. All of this, I realize as an absolute blessing.
Oh yeah, I’ve worked my ass off for nearly fifteen years to be here right now—conceiving of my groups, musical directions, recordings… financing them myself, being my own agent, manager and office assistant, all while teaching at colleges, coaching high school music students, gigging and trying to just be a musician who practices (toward the high standards in jazz established before me) and composes, so as not to be some jive, musical hustler. In other words, doing everything that this independent musician needs to do to survive.
I’m really not complaining mind you. I had it all too good in the beginning—playing with Jazz masters while still in my teens, landing a record deal with major label distribution (I’m sure a lot of you don’t even know what that is) at age 20 and going on to play, record and tour the world with legends.
But none of that, or this, is anything I ever felt or feel entitled to. It’s all a magically pleasant surprise and a gift, albeit one that I dream up in evanescently vague detail and try my best to work toward and prepare for as best I can, by putting one foot in front of the other, trying my best to stay faithful, showing up and being thankful.
To any and all of you who have helped or believed in me in any way, thank you.
Washington, DC – The Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, in conjunction with Chicago Public Schools, will present the Gallery 37 and ChiArts Jazz Combos in concert with internationally acclaimed jazz guitarist Bobby Broom on June 12th at Columbia College. The Gallery 37 Center for the Arts jazz program is made possible through the support of the United Airlines Foundation, and the Chicago High School for the Arts (ChiArts) jazz program is made possible by a grant from the JP Morgan Chase Foundation. Broom will serve as artist-in-residence at both schools during the three days leading up to the concert. The Columbia College concert marks the culmination of the Institute’s 2013-2014 National Performing Arts High School Jazz Program, which helps prepare students in Chicago and eight other cities to become the next generation of jazz artists.
“The groups comprise some of the very best music students in Chicago,” said Thelonious Monk, Jr., Chairman of the Institute’s Board of Trustees and son of legendary jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk. “Seeing and hearing these extraordinary teenagers play this music at a level that so belies their years is heartening; their level of technical proficiency, creativity, and artistry for their age is off the charts.”
“We’re so looking forward to working with Bobby Broom,” said Michael Panelas, a guitarist and ChiArts High School student who recently returned from a weeklong tour with the Quintet and jazz saxophone great Bobby Watson as part of the Institute’s national peer-to-peer jazz program, performing and teaching in high schools across the country. “Mr. Broom is definitely one of the best jazz guitarists in the world.”
The concert will be held on Thursday, June 12th, beginning at 7:30 PM at the Columbia College Concert Hall (1014 S. Michigan Avenue at 11th St.). Free and open to the public, the concert will feature an evening of standards, jazz classics, and contemporary jazz, as well as compositions from Broom’s latest recordings, programmed for an audience of all ages, including the young performers’ peers.
“As young people are so influenced by kids their own age, who better to expose them to this great American art form than those of their own generation?” added Monk. “And with Bobby Broom – one of the most exciting and soulful performers on the scene today – it’s truly an extraordinary opportunity for students, teachers, musicians, non-musicians – everybody.”
Finally, the energy of renewal is in the air. Moving in accordance with that energy, we are finishing up post-production on the new CD entitled, My Shining Hour. The release date is August 19th. We’re also working on promotional video for the CD which we’ll begin releasing soon.
Also in the wind-down stages is the solo transcriptions project. As the first stage of a much larger endeavor, Bobby has been working closely with transciber, Matt Wampler, on all of his guitar solos from Bobby Broom Plays for Monk. These solo transcription will be offered for sale soon on this website.
Bobby can be heard on the just released Sonny Rollins CD, Road Shows, Vol. 3, the 3rd in a series of live concert recordings.
From June 10-12, Broom will assist Chicago area high school student combos from the Gallery 37 and Chicago Academy for the Arts, under the auspices of The Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. The work will entail coaching and performing with the student groups. Bobby has had an affiliation with the Monk Institute since his work for them in a Dolo, Italy educational program in 1987.
THE STORY BEHIND THE MUSIC
At long last, I’ve decided to release these homemade demos that I’ve been holding onto for around 20 years. Over those years, I’ve revisited them from time to time and always enjoyed. At the time, I remember doing all I could to put the most into the music and get the most feeling from these demos. It’s not audiophile quality (I’ll make up for that on my new, 2014 recording), but they sound clear enough to hear that the music is all there. More
Mr. Ron Davis, the father of deceased 17 year-old Jordan Davis, made a beautiful post-trail statement this evening. Which got me thinking…
I do not believe this country will ever recover from its self-concocted racism, the fuel of the tormented Black men and women who worked to build this nation, and the life-blood of the system that enabled it to accrue the wealth necessary to establish an industrial revolution and beyond. More
I can’t remember the last time I had such a profound reaction to a guitar player than when I heard Jef Lee Johnson in 2010. Not in 30 years or more had a fellow guitarist made me feel like I had discovered the musical Holy Grail. Yes, I’d had lesser seismic stirrings as a kid upon hearing, Benson, Wes and Pat Martino, …but—this was the musical motherlode!
What struck me most as I delved into the world of Jef Lee Johnson, the vast body of work that is his musical legacy, is that it seemed limitless in its embodiment of all things Black Music. Much like the aesthetic itself, its extentions reached in and firmly gripped classic and acid rock, while titillating other styles as the free-spirited composer saw fit. And what a composer he was! Not bound in any way stylistically (within the aesthetic realm that he inhabited), his compositions always contained enough of him—his dreamy, thoughtful lyrics, Pop-defying musical idiosyncrasies, life-or-death urgency in feel or groove, authenticity to the style and deft guitar and bass playing—that no two songs, regardless of polarity, sounded out of place or in opposition.
I first heard Jef while trolling the web late one night. I stumbled on some guys playing a version of Herbie’s Watermelon man on the old Black Entertainment Television show, Studio Jams, where they would assemble random musicians… Who was this guitar player who seemed more interested in keeping his part nice and tight and was gently overseeing the band to make sure that the whole presentation was right? Then seemingly out of nowhere, he takes this most unassuming, yet most killing solo, playing a little of this and that and in the most personal way, saying a little something that any and everyone would want to play. From there I was just about hooked, so I downloaded his recording “Blue” (1995) and that sealed the deal. Fan for life! On that record, his first, there was anthem-rock, folksy, bottle-neck slide blues, single-line and chord solos over funky, jazz changes and more. A music critic’s dream or nightmare, depending on their intentions! Then and there he became my all-time favorite, all-around, genre-splitting guitarist. He played like, “aww, what the heck,” and to me, he sounded like everyone of the best of them would sound if they were all one and could be that free.
After checking out his bio (McCoy Tyner, Billy Joel, Quest Love, Chaka Khan, Erica Badu, Paul Shaffer’s David Letterman Band, Esperanza Spaulding, George Duke, Terrence Blanchard, DeAngelo, Stanley Clarke…) and speaking to my musician friends who travel in those circles, I felt like the odd man out. Why hadn’t anyone told me about him??!!! I proceeded to make up for lost time by acquiring several of his recordings under his own name. I’m only about halfway through with 6 or 7 records. Although his known recordings as a leader weren’t released until he was in his 30s, he managed to be quite prolific, releasing several ‘double-record’ sets, sometimes with as many as 30 songs.
There is so much of Jef Lee Johnson to discover musically—so many vistas he invites you to imagine and ideas to mull over. Over the past 3 years, I became intimately aware of these landscapes and airwaves of his, yet as with all great artists, his music always invites me to go deeper to find its newfound parts—his lyrics so vivid and so vast.
She’s got the whole thing covered,
all day, all night, all things to me
So much yet undiscovered,
as far as every eye can see
(from Hype Factory‘s, “Sky”)
When he died last year I felt as though I had lost a loved-one. It was really uncanny how deeply I felt the “loss” of somebody I’d never known, let alone never met. I kicked myself because I’d had an opportunity one summer earlier which I passed up on due to excuses. “I’ll meet him another time…”, I reasoned. The feeling of sadness seemingly would not go away that easily after he passed. And then one evening I eagerly sat down to read a newly republished, 12 page interview of his on the internet. Way into it on page 11, the interviewer asked how he got the gig with McCoy Tyner and Jef Lee went on to explain the circumstances and process, when he says “…McCoy was looking for a guitarist…Bobby Broom did a gig, I remember…” For the record, I have never, ever played with McCoy. But for me, reading that statement from him was the weirdest form of closure. It was as though the universe was telling me through him, it’s okay, it’s not over, we’ll meet again.
Thanks Jef Lee Johnson for being the best at accomplishing the purpose of music and for reminding me that great music cannot be measured in notes, words or accomplishments.