Biography

In a career spanning three decades, preeminent guitarist Bobby Broom has embodied the truism that it’s the player not the tune that makes for a memorable performance in jazz. After years as an elite sideman with the likes of Sonny Rollins, Stanley Turrentine, and Dr. John, Broom reintroduced himself to the jazz world with Stand! (2001), a brilliant foray into the pop music he grew up hearing in the 1960s and ’70s. In his subsequent releases he’s demonstrated a keen ear for rarely played material, a gift for composing evocative tunes, and impressive facility with the knotty rhythmic puzzles of Thelonious Monk, which is what makes his new album My Shining Hour such an unexpected revelation. The luxuriantly melodic session features Broom’s working trio focusing on beloved American Songbook standards.

“When I formed the trio in 1991 it was to avoid playing weather-worn standards with makeshift groups,” Broom says. But when Broom’s bassist Dennis Carroll suggested they adopt “Jitterbug Waltz,” Fats Waller’s classic tune ended up opening the door to “the great songs that have lasted, that became part of the American quilt. Only one of the pieces we recorded had been in the trio’s repertoire. These were all newly approached by me and the group.”

Possessing a taut, medium-gauge tone that’s round and warm in every register, Broom is a tremendously assured player who can put his stamp on a standard without radically reworking it. His trio with Carroll and rising drummer Makaya McCraven plays with understated authority from the opening passage, with Broom delivering a beautifully chorded statement of “Sweet and Lovely” over stick work by McCraven so tight and quietly dramatic it could have been inspired by an ingenious Savion Glover tap routine.

While jazz musicians often treat Cole Porter’s “Just One of Those Things” as a steeplechase, Broom takes the melody at a brisk medium tempo, paying close attention to the contours of the soaring melody. In many ways the album’s centerpiece is the title track, a gem by Harold Arlen that has been interpreted by countless jazz musicians. Broom opens with the rarely played verse, and then lets the sinuous melody suggest new harmonic and rhythmic directions.

The album’s most delightful surprise is the sublime ballad “The Heather on the Hill.” Lerner and Loewe contributed numerous hits to the jazz repertoire, but Broom learned this overlooked gem from Brigadoon during his tenure with Rollins, a true connoisseur of the American Songbook’s back pages. “I just love this melody,” Broom says. “The whole score of Brigadoon is great, and that tune in particular. I don’t think we ever played the verse, but I learned it from watching the movie.”

Not surprisingly the album’s other non-standard, “Tennessee Waltz,” was another tune he picked up from Rollins. Broom hadn’t planned on recording the piece, but with a little time left over at the end of the session he decided to play it, and the trio delivered a suspenseful, brooding version that closes the album with an unsentimental flourish.

It’s a testament to the band’s cohesiveness and deeply shared intuition that the album ends up feeling like far more than a collection of familiar tunes. Broom’s telegraphic approach provides plenty of room for Carroll’s subtle interplay and McCraven’s dancing figures. Both players understand the eloquence of silence in Broom’s less-is-more aesthetic, using beautifully calibrated dynamics to shape each passage. Broom honed the approach during the trio’s 15-year weekly gig at the popular Evanston steakhouse Pete Miller’s, where he recorded the acclaimed live session The Way I Play.

“What I’ve had to come to terms with is the spaciousness that is inherent in the guitar trio,” Broom says. “Some people don’t like it. They think it’s too dry. It took me a number of years to get comfortable and welcoming to the nature of the trio’s sound, which can leave a lot to the imagination. In the beginning there was all this room, and no one playing chords behind me when I’m soloing and playing melodies. Now I almost accompany myself with chords as I play melodies, and the melodies shape the harmonies during my solos.”

Though he’s far too young to belong to the old school, Broom hews to the hoary jazz ethic that puts a premium on long-standing musical relationships. Carroll, who came up on the Chicago scene playing with heavyweights like Jodie Christian, Bunky Green, and Clifford Jordan, has anchored Broom’s trio for more than two decades. There’s been more turnover in the drum chair, which has become something of a launching pad for stellar young players. From George Fludas and Dana Hall to Kobie Watkins, Broom’s drummers have all joined the elite ranks. McCraven, who started playing with Broom about five years ago, is on the same trajectory.

“Makaya is all of 29, and he came along after Kobie was getting really busy,” Broom says. “He’s got a certain nonstop intensity and energy, a free-flowing array of ideas that touch on a variety of styles. His dad is a professional drummer who lives in Paris and played with Archie Shepp, and his mom is a Hungarian folk musician, so he’s got jazz, world music, and funk at his fingertips. And Dennis and I have played for such a long time we really work as a tandem. He realized early on he had a lot of space to work with because I’m not directing him by playing chords all of the time. He’s very harmonically astute, and wants to find the right colors for the moment.”

Born in Harlem on January 18, 1961 and raised on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Bobby Broom was still in his mid-teens when he started attracting the attention of veteran masters. Performing with teenage peers in Young, Gifted, and Broke, a musical by “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black” lyricist Weldon Irvine, Broom was surprised when guitarist Aurell Ray approached him as a possible replacement in Sonny Rollins’s band. He soon found himself in an hour-long rehearsal with bassist Bob Cranshaw, drummer Eddie Moore, and the tenor titan himself, who concluded the session by seeking to hire Broom for an upcoming tour.

Broom decided to finish high school instead, but Rollins was undaunted, promising to call when he returned to town, which is how the guitarist ended up making his Gotham debut at Carnegie Hall in 1977 with Rollins, Cranshaw, Moore, Ray, pianist Mike Nock, and trumpeter Donald Byrd.

Rollins called again in 1981 and took Broom on the road for six years. He rejoined Rollins in 2005 for another long stint, and can be heard on an array of his releases, from 1981’s No Problem and 1983’s Reel Life (both on Milestone) to 2006’s Sonny, Please and 2008’s and 2014’s Road Shows, vols. 1 and 3 (all on Doxy), plus the 2008 Doxy DVD Sonny Rollins in Vienne.

Part of a precociously talented cadre at Manhattan’s “Fame” High School of Music and Art that included Omar Hakim, Marcus Miller, and Bernard Wright, Broom spent his senior year sitting in with legendary bebop pianist Al Haig at Gregory’s. He was still a teenager when he sat in with Art Blakey at Mikell’s, and ended up declining the drummer’s offer to join the Jazz Messengers. Instead he joined up with trumpeter Tom Browne, with whom he started recording for GRP. Broom quickly became a staple at the label, recording with Dave Grusin, Dave Valentin, and Bernard Wright and cutting his first two albums as a leader, 1981’s Clean Sweep (GRP/Arista) and 1984’s Livin’ for the Beat (Arista).

Broom relocated to Chicago in the mid-1980s and was called to rededicate himself to straight-ahead jazz. He got an important boost when hollowbody patriarch Kenny Burrell recruited him and conceived of his Jazz Guitar Band in 1986, which led to two Blue Note recordings and international tours with the ensemble. He also toured and recorded with B3 master Charles Earland, tenor star Stanley Turrentine, trumpet legends Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, and New Orleans pianoman Dr. John, a gig that lasted from 1994 to 1999.

He formed the Bobby Broom Trio in 1990 and the Deep Blue Organ Trio with organist Chris Foreman and drummer Greg Rockingham in 1999, a group that recorded four blues-steeped albums before recently disbanding. With the trio serving as his primary creative vehicle, he’s released a string of critically acclaimed albums, starting with Stand! (Premonition). Recording for Origin since 2007’s Song and Dance, Broom has gone from strength to strength, releasing the sizzling live session The Way I Play in 2008, the enthralling Bobby Broom Plays for Monk in 2009, and 2012’s collection of inviting original tunes Upper West Side Story.

A dedicated educator, Broom earned a B.A. in music from Columbia College and an M.A. in jazz pedagogy from Northwestern University. He has taught at the University of Hartford, the American Conservatory of Music, Roosevelt University, and DePaul University. In recent years he’s worked with a jazz mentoring program sponsored by the Ravinia Festival Organization, teaching music students in public high schools throughout Chicago.

Young musicians can learn a great deal by paying close attention to Broom’s trio, a band that serves as an ideal forum for the guitarist’s singular vision, while “bringing in everybody’s musical conception,” he says. “I’ve played with a bunch of other people, and Dennis and Makaya have too, but it’s a specific, unique sound when we get together with each other.” Playing with enviable clarity and power, allied with exactly the right players, Broom is seizing the moment. More than a title track, “My Shining Hour” is an apt description of Broom’s latest superlative release. •

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