Chicago Jazz Magazine: Many people feel that the brand of jazz espoused by Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center will turn jazz into a â€œdeadâ€ art form, that it doesnâ€™t allow room for jazz to grow. Where do you fall on that issue?
Bobby Broom: I applaud Wynton for his efforts and I think I understand what heâ€™s trying to do. I had a chance to work with him when we were much younger. He had just moved to New York and we were both enlisting in the academy of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. For a long time I didnâ€™t really pay that much attention to what he was saying, but his message maybe has become clearer to me, Iâ€™ll put it that way. His message has become clearer to me over timeâ€”as weâ€™ve matured. I read his last book, Notes to a Young Jazz Musicianâ€”wonderful! And I never thought I would agree with him as much as I did after reading that book.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: What is his message?
Broom: Well, the basic plot of the book is that heâ€™s corresponding to a young aspiring jazz musician whoâ€™s just moved from wherever to New York. And Wynton would write letters to him from the road and just talk to him about the music and what he should be thinking about as a student; what he should be aspiring to, that kind of thing. The message that I got from itâ€”the main one I thinkâ€”is that Wynton feels that the most important elements of jazz music are being ignored, and those are swing and the blues. I agree. They are not heralded today as important and necessary components of jazz music. And thatâ€™s due to the propagation of other characteristics as being as importantâ€”innovation, world beats and whatever other elements you want to throw in the mixâ€”jazz is all-inclusive. So now anything can be called jazz. As long as you can take a solo itâ€™s jazz! And you know, I disagree with that. Now itâ€™s hard to quantify and qualify those elements of swing and the blues. Itâ€™s difficult because now we are talking about artâ€”now we are talking about the subjective and it gets murky. Iâ€™m somebody thatâ€™s been known to incorporate different styles into my playing, so far be it for me to be this staunch purist who says, Itâ€™s got to be this way, or, It canâ€™t be anything after 1960. Iâ€™m not that way. I believe, probably unlike Wynton, that if you play a funk beat underneath it could still be called jazz. But thereâ€™s other criteria that I adhere to, that I think he and I would agree upon, about what makes jazz jazz. He also talks about the issue of race as being very relative to the music and I thoroughly agree with that. Until we as a â€œsocietyâ€ of music lovers, of jazz loversâ€”weâ€™ll put it that wayâ€”until weâ€™re able to confront this issue of race there will be fractionalized sects of this music; this can/that canâ€™t, this style/that styleâ€”you know. Iâ€™m all for a firmly established, universal understanding of jazzâ€™ authorship and I feel that if things continue as they have been in recent years, itâ€™s really up for grabs. Jazz music is a young art form, itâ€™s been around one hundred years. And a lot has happened and there have been quite a few periods within those hundred years and huge shifts in styles. And weâ€™re in the midst of one right now. I feel that we may be shifting away from the original feeling of what jazz was; the original elements of the musicâ€”and when I say original I mean late 1800s, early 1900s, through the 1920s, up to the swing eraâ€”then everything changed. Once the swing era came and went, then bebop comes. Then we were getting back to where we started in a sense. The continuum was still happening. Itâ€™s been happening all along, but there have been shifts in the perception of what the music is, whoâ€™s important and whoâ€™s not, how theyâ€™re included, or not.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: A shift of critical mass.
Broom: Yes, of critical mass by the manipulation of peopleâ€™s perceptions by business for the purpose of money, not for the purpose of art, not for the purpose of valuing artistic contribution relative to the jazz legacy. Gosh, jazz music is a wonderful, wonderful gift! Thatâ€™s obvious, because itâ€™s reached so many people, so many cultures, and itâ€™s been embraced and aspired to. I teach at DePaul and I subbed as director for another instructorâ€™s small ensemble the other day. I only knew maybe one of these kids. So weâ€™re working on a tune and trying to work out the arrangement. I said to the saxophonistâ€”it was a vocal arrangementâ€”I said, â€œAfter the bridge on this last â€œAâ€ section, why donâ€™t you do some call and response? You know, just play through the holes of the melody.â€ I didnâ€™t know what this girl sounded like, I didnâ€™t know what this was going to turn out to be, but just put it out there. Boy, could she play. Phew! I mean really play. And you know I got thatâ€”Iâ€™m getting it right now! [laughter]â€”I got that feeling. I wanted to stop the tune right there and say, â€œWho are you and where are you from?â€ And I finally got the chance to ask her and she said, â€œMy name is Lena from Norway.â€ She was from some little town in Norway. [sighs] Oh man, that is so coolâ€”soooo cool.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: That has to leave you optimistic.
Broom: Well, yeah. On one hand I am thoroughly optimistic. I saw Jon Hendricks in an airport. And we donâ€™t know each other and, of course, I know who he is by face and I just walked up to him and started talking. And he was very, very, very nice and warm and talked to me like I was his peer. And we began to discuss it. And he said, â€œOh no, no, no, no, jazz canâ€™t die. They can do whatever to it, but they canâ€™t kill it â€˜cause itâ€™s like life.â€ And I thought, Yeah, there will always be those who understand the truth of this music. They can just hear it, and it has no bearing on what they think about social issues or anythingâ€”but just about the feeling in the music. And that speaks to some people and that will keep jazz fully alive and thriving. But I agree with those who say that ossifying and preserving the art form is a scary thing, because people take things too literally. Thatâ€™s like saying itâ€™s Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellingtonâ€¦ and then everybodyâ€™s dead! So we canâ€™t take that too literally, because they were a part of a larger picture. They were just individuals. The â€œgreat manâ€ theory in jazz, to me, doesnâ€™t work. Itâ€™s not just one guy. Duke couldnâ€™t have done it without the members of his orchestra. Itâ€™s just that we need some kind of â€œhero-ification,â€ we have to be able to make a history, to make a story. But while itâ€™s a convenient thing to preserve that story by linking it to the great contributions of only a few people, thatâ€™s not the way that jazz works. Itâ€™s a collective art form. Yes, there are great contributors and great contributions in addition to lesser ones. And we also need to celebrate the music thatâ€™s alive today and the musicians that are alive todayâ€”the musicians that have dedicated their lives to this music because of the history, because of the continuum. You know, I remember being in my twenties and not being sure about whether I wanted to be a jazz musician or not. But at some point during my thirties, I began to realize what an honor it would be to be a representative of the legacy of this great cultural gift and to try to carry it on. Not every jazz musician will be as fortunate to have made such strong connections to this musicâ€™s past. And if I have been gifted with the talent to express in this way, and embraced and in a sense endorsed by these leaders in the field, that alone is quite an honor.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: So what was it that changed your mind about jazz?
Broom: Though I wasnâ€™t sure about whether I wanted to be a â€œjazz musician,â€ in quotes, early on I had already decided that this was what I wanted to do in my life. I was fifteen, and it was in response to hearing George Benson and linking that sound to all the music that I had ever heard before that. It just was being spoken through him, through that instrument, and it made total sense. The guitar was the instrument that I had chosen. Jazz and the clean sound was the medium. Hearing George Benson was a confirmation that you can be as expressive as you want to be on this instrument. And there was proof and it was like, Okay, thatâ€™s it. Then I heard Wes and it was likeâ€”Right. [laughter] I get it! So there is something here. I had heard about the importance of the jazz legacy and I was beginning to understand that, but at the same time, I was born in the sixties, and grew up in the seventies, and there was this fusion and funk that my friends were playingâ€”and we were all trying to play all these things. Now the way that I heard the guitar was always without affectsâ€”a clean soundâ€”pretty much classic jazz guitar. I mean it was just innately how I heard the guitar and myself playing it. And I had to reconcile that with the various periods as I went through them. Like in the mid-eighties, when Mike Stern and John Scofield were the epitome of what jazz guitar was supposed to be. And I didnâ€™t fit that mold, that sound, that style. It was not mine. It wasnâ€™t comfortable; I didnâ€™t ever really aspire to play like that. It was interesting, but so what? So, when I got to the point where jazz had already started to be a careerâ€”when I was on the career trackâ€”me and some of the friends that I played with didnâ€™t know if we wanted to limit ourselves to being straight ahead jazz musicians. Is this something that is going to yield the kind of success I want? And I donâ€™t mean riches and fame; I mean just a basic comfort level that I would want.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: Especially at that time.
Broom: Yes, exactlyâ€”in the early eighties. What role models did we really have in terms of people who were just swinging? So we were concerned about becoming limited in our playing: They did that alreadyâ€”they did that bebop, post-bop thing. That was done already. Do we want to be old-fashioned like that? Do we want to just do that?
Chicago Jazz Magazine: You once said in an interview that when you heard George Benson, â€œwhat he was playing was so musical that it didnâ€™t even sound like a guitar. It just sounded like music.â€ What did you mean by that?
Broom: When I hear a musicianâ€™s style, or their language, melody is paramount, whether itâ€™s George or any of the great jazz musicians. And you know when I talk to students I try to get them to think about where our impetus to melody comes from. Where do we get our information from? From our everyday lives, from what weâ€™re surrounded by, from what we receive via the radio, television, all the songs weâ€™ve heard in our childhood, folk songs, everything! Sonny Rollins is a perfect example. A great improviser like Sonny Rollins draws on all of those influences when heâ€™s playingâ€”not just Charlie Parkerâ€™s bebop style. Thatâ€™s just a BIG [chuckles] part of it: the syntax of the language, the grammar. So I think thatâ€™s what I meant. When I heard George, the music sounded unlimitedâ€”it felt like I was hearing all of the music I have ever heard. I heard melodies and it just made total sense to me. And I didnâ€™t know about bebop at that point, at all! Everything just made senseâ€”the stories that he told melodically, rhythmically, the way he played melodies against the chords, improvisations against the chords, the way that he could veer off and make it make sense and then come backâ€”all of that. And I related what I heard him doing to all of the thousands and thousands of combinations of notes in the form of melodies that I had already heard, because as a kid I used to listen to the radio like a mad man and take it in really intensely.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: You started playing guitar when you were twelve. What made you gravitate toward that particular instrument?
Broom: I donâ€™t know. Nothing that I can really put my finger on. That guitar hanging up on the back wall is a tenor guitar that my Godfather gave to me. I donâ€™t know if that is what planted the seed. I didnâ€™t do anything with it. I was eight and I just banged around on it and threw it in the closet. But then when I was twelve, I just [snaps fingers] woke up one day and I knew there was something that I had to do. And that was it.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: And suddenly it was clear to you that you should play the guitar?
Broom: No, it was vague, you know, vague but clear. And thatâ€™s that magic thing, that thingâ€”I donâ€™t know what to call it. But, itâ€™s a sixth sense if you will.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: An intuition?
Broom: An intuition. Being in touch with your spiritual self.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: What was it that you saw as your calling, to make music or play the guitar?
Broom: It wasnâ€™t a calling, at that pointâ€”at least not in terms of a vocation. It was a calling to do something, like a hobby, but it wasnâ€™t in word form. It was like I woke up and it was like this burning thing inside. I have to play, I want to play the guitar, I want a guitar. I donâ€™t know if I saw something on TV, I just donâ€™t remember a specific incident that sparked this.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: Was that when you were a radio fiend?
Chicago Jazz Magazine: Maybe you heard something on the radio.
Broom: Maybe I heard something on the radio. I donâ€™t know. So I went and told my parents and my Dad came home with a guitar and a microphone because, of course, all guitar players have to sing, and that was it. And I think my goal at that point was just to strum and be able toâ€”I just wanted to make music. Thatâ€™s what it was. I wanted to make music! But I didnâ€™t know what that meant. I didnâ€™t know to what extent I wanted to do it. At that point, it was just that I wanted to be able to accompany myself and sing. And for some reason it was just the guitar that I picked for whatever reason.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: And within three and a half years you were playing Carnegie Hall with Sonny Rollins.
Broom: [Laughter] Thatâ€™s it! Itâ€™s that easy boys and girls!
Chicago Jazz Magazine: Thatâ€™s the answer to the old joke, â€œHow do you get to Carnegie Hall?â€ [laughter] How did that come about?
Broom: Well, I figured out that this jazz thing was it and that this was what I wanted to do. You know the power of thought is incredible. I didnâ€™t know that, but I definitely thought a lot about what it was that I wanted to do and so I was really sending the energy of my dreams out there. Like, this is what I want to do. I want to be like these guys one day. And then I just practiced and I listened, and I listened and I practiced, and I practiced and played along, and eventually I found myself in those situations. Growing up in New York helped me to be exposed. I lived on the Upper West Side and there were two or three clubs within a few blocks of my house. Quite a few jazz musicians lived in the neighborhood as well. Also, we had a great jazz band director at my high school, Justin DiCiocio. Once I became aware of the music it wasnâ€™t very for me hard to find.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: Walk us through the events that led up to Carnegie Hall.
Broom: Well, we had a neighborhood band. We played a talent show in my high school and there was a gentleman backstage. He was an older guyâ€”he was like 35â€”which was ancient. [smiling] Whoâ€™s that old dude back there? Man look at himâ€”heâ€™s got a bald head! Ha-ha-ha. Whatâ€™s he doing? Well, he was looking for young musicians to play roles in this off-off Broadway play that he had written called Young, Gifted and Broke. His name was Weldon Irvine. So he approached a couple of us in the band and said, â€œThis is what I am doing. Iâ€™d like you to come to the Billie Holiday Theater in Brooklyn and audition for these roles in the play and also in the pit band.â€ So we did, and we got the partsâ€”three of us from our band. And it was Poogie Bell on drums, who now plays with Erica Badu, Marcus Miller, Chaka Khan and the list goes on. Marcus Miller was in the pit with us playing bass. Weldon was a mentor to all of us and to a bunch of musicians in the Queens, New York area. He was a very active underground figure in various forms of black music and continued to mentor up until his recent death. So we got these roles and were making money doing this off-off Broadway play, five nights a week, matinees on Saturday and Sunday. I learned so much about playing music then. We also played the roles of a kid-band in the play. So in one scene we would play on stage. Weâ€™d play our tune like we were rehearsing at someoneâ€™s house; so we were showcased. One night a guy approached me after the show and said his name was Aurell Ray. He said, â€œIâ€™m a guitar player and I play with Sonny Rollins.â€ And I say, â€œWow, Sonny Rollins! Iâ€™ve heard of him.â€ And he says, â€œYou should go audition for Sonny.â€ And I said, â€œWell didnâ€™t you just say youâ€™re the guitar player?!â€ [chuckle] â€œWell, yeah, but he said heâ€™s going to be looking for another guitar player soon. Hereâ€™s the addressâ€”go audition.â€ Phew! Man, Iâ€™d take any opportunity just to play. I wasnâ€™t nervous. That was probably because the first teacher I had instilled a mentality in me that you learn by doing. Thatâ€™s how he conducted his lessonsâ€”a big part of his lessons was performance. Weâ€™d do theory. Heâ€™d have me spell chords, weâ€™d learn scales, et cetera, and then weâ€™d play tunes.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: Was that Jimmy Carter?
Broom: Yeah. Heâ€™d count a tune off and it was like a real performance complete with intros, endings, the works. Plus, Iâ€™d been doing the play, playing in jazz band at Music and Art High School and sitting in with pianist Al Haig most weeknights after homework and before my curfew. So I had been garnering quite a bit of performing experience. So I go to this auditionâ€”the guitar playerâ€™s not here, itâ€™s just me, Sonny, Bob Cranshaw and Eddie Moore, a drummer from the Bay Area whoâ€™s since passed. I played, and Sonny apparently liked something and asked me to join the band and do a college tour. And I said, â€œWell, I canâ€™t. Iâ€™m in high school. Iâ€™m a senior in high school and my mother and father wonâ€™t let me do that.â€ And he said, â€Well, Iâ€™ll call you when I get back home.â€ And I thought, Okay, cool. I didnâ€™t know. Totally green! I didnâ€™t know what that meant. I didnâ€™t think about it. And then an ad came on the radio for his performance at Carnegie Hall months later and I got excited because I was going to go to the show and get to go backstage, because now I know Sonny. And then the phone rang that night. I was doing my homework and it was Sonny living up to his word. [chuckles]
Chicago Jazz Magazine: So you replaced Aurell Ray.
Broom: Well, no, he played that concert with us. Sonny had two guitars and a piano player [Michael Wolf] and Donald Byrd was a special guest.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: Why two guitarsâ€”was he trying to break in a new guitarist with a backup just in case?
Broom: Maybe. I donâ€™t know. But I didnâ€™t wind up staying with him. I graduated high school and went to Berklee College of Music. Itâ€™s funny, because last night Al Foster was on the gig with us with Sonny and that time period came up. Sonny said, â€œDo you remember playing here, Al?â€ Al says, â€œYeah, yeah, I think so,â€ and Sonny says, â€œYeah, we played here with the Milestone All-Stars in 1978. So I thought, thatâ€™s right, I saw you guys play at Berklee Performance Center when I was a college freshman. I said it to myself because I didnâ€™t want to make them feel old! And so that was the next time I saw Sonny, about a year later. And I went backstage and talked to him for a while that night.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: Whatâ€™s Sonny like?
Broom: Heâ€™s a nobleman. Yeah, just a beautiful spirit, and thoughtful in so many waysâ€¦ honorable and humble.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: What are some of your favorite stories about Sonny?
Broom: [Chuckles] Well, one is when I was in this dilemma. I had just made a record for Blue Note, Live at the Village Vanguard with Kenny Burrell and The Jazz Guitar Band, and we had our first gig in support of the record. And sometime just before that gig I got a call from Miles Davis. â€œCome to New York,â€ Miles said. I still had my apartment in New York. So I went. And I was rehearsing with Milesâ€”he had given me some gigs. And then I get the Kenny Burrell itinerary and one of the gigs is on the same night as a Milesâ€™ gig at the Auditorium Theater in Chicago. So, home crowd, family, friends, venue, you know versus, somewhere in New Jersey at a club. But I knew that I had made this commitment to Kenny first and I needed to honor that. It was just that I was struggling with it, and so I called Sonny. And I voiced my struggle, and I said, â€œI donâ€™t knowâ€”part of me wants to do this Miles gig. And Sonny said, â€œWell, what part is that?â€ And I said, â€œOkay, man, I gotta go. I gotta go make a phone call.â€ [laughs] So I called Miles and told him, â€œLook man, I canâ€™t do this one gig. I had a prior commitment with Kenny Burrell.â€ He said, â€œKenny Burrell??!!â€ [laughs, slaps knee] But I just thought Sonnyâ€™s answer was hilarious: â€œWhat part is that?â€ You know, thatâ€™s how he is.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: Did you ever get a chance to work with Miles then after that?
Broom: Yeah, I did five gigs with him.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: Well, lets move from one legend to another. Tell us some Miles dope.
Broom: Well, as I alluded to before, that style of playing that Miles was interested in was not my style. It was not the way that I heard the guitar. It was not my voice.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: What was he doing at that timeâ€”was it fusion?
Broom: Fusion. Yeah, he had been doing fusion since the early seventies.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: So for you at that time fusion was an â€œoldâ€ style?
Broom: No that wasnâ€™t it at all. It was rock! The guitarâ€™s role in fusion music is rock-based as opposed to jazz based. If he could have had Jimi Hendrix in the band Iâ€™m sure he would have. The guy he had right before me was Hiram Bullock. And he only did two gigs with him for whatever reason. But Hiram was on the gig and before him Robin Ford, who I thought was the best on that gigâ€”he kicked ass. Stern, Scofieldâ€¦ You know, Scofield was probably to my ear the most â€œjazzy,â€ I hate that word, jazzy, but he had the most straight ahead sensibility. He could mix it upâ€”put that little bit of distortion on and play the blues. I couldnâ€™t do that. I was a straight up, straight-ahead player. Funky and soulful maybe, but I hadnâ€™t fully realized my voice quite yet. You know, sometimes today I wonder: Could I get on that gig now and play with my tone and make it work? I am really curious about that, but Iâ€™ll never know. But at that point I wasnâ€™t secure in much of anything, least of all my sound and trying to make it fit, and I was unsure of whether it did. I would just say, Well, Iâ€™ve got to do it how he wants it and I know he wants it like this. See, Miles knew; I know he knew. I sent him some bogus demo tape that I made, where Iâ€™m playing some stuff that I thought was what he wanted to hear. The message he sent back to me was, â€œTell him not to play so far behind the beat.â€ You know, itâ€™s his way of saying, I hear you, man, you know! [chuckles] And Iâ€™m thinking, Come on, Scofield plays as far if not farther behind the beat than I do, so whatâ€™s he talking about? During an intermission of one of the shows Miles said something to me like, â€œI know itâ€™s loud, but keep just playing through it.â€ Or heâ€™d walk over to me on stage and play a line that he might have played in 1959. He knew exactly who I was â€“ a jazz musician, not a rock and roller.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: Did you get the impression that Miles was pleased with the stuff he was creating at that time?
Broom: Yeah, Miles is an artist. So heâ€™s not going to do anything that he doesnâ€™t want to do. I mean a true artist, not a commercial artist. Yes, Miles heard his trumpet voice in a lot of contexts throughout his career. The last thing he left was the Doo-Bop record, which I enjoyed. It was his attempt to integrate his sound in a rap/hip-hop setting. Milesâ€™ voice just fits. He knew how to make it fit over and within music and make it worthwhile. Thatâ€™s how I feelâ€”thatâ€™s how I perceive it, and evidently how he heard it and was able to transmit it. So yeah, he was enjoying it. He was really diligent about the band, the soundâ€”the group soundâ€”and very particular about things. And he would tape every night; the soundman would record every night. Miles would listen and go back to someone if he had something to say about what they had done: what he wanted, what he didnâ€™t want, what he liked, what he didnâ€™t like. If he didnâ€™t like what he was doing he wouldnâ€™t have behaved like that.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: One common thread through your entire music career is education.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: Youâ€™ve had mentors and youâ€™ve been a mentor. Why donâ€™t you talk about that a little bit?
Broom: I like that word â€œmentor,â€ and itâ€™s been a wonderful experience to be able to be a part of the jazz mentoring program here in Chicago under the auspices of Ravinia, via a community outreach program called the Music Performance Program. We visit Chicago area high schools on a regular basis and mentor the kids by providing music lessons and guidance. Itâ€™s been a joy to nurture young people through music and to present something different to them. To see their faces light up in various instances when they recognize something or when they get something from what we are doing. Itâ€™s a shame that the average young person will not get a chance to experience the joy of many styles of music because of commercial forces. But mentoring has been great for me because I realize that mentoring is an important component of the continuation and evolution of this art form, jazz. Itâ€™s how musicians learn to play: from emulating the recordingsâ€”listening and emulatingâ€”and through mentoring and apprenticeship. So thatâ€™s something that I think about when I teach at DePaul University and it keeps me clear about what Iâ€™m doing. I have my feelings about jazz education and what the purpose of it is.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: What are those feelings?
Broom: I was just talking to a creative writer about this today. He said that he sometimes feels that arts education at higher institutions can be kind of opportunistic. I agree. Offering a jazz program is a way for institutions to make quite a bit of money. Jazz is becoming more and more respected as an art form, only because it cannot be denied. Not because the institutions deem it so. In fact, the institutions, more often than not, treat jazz as a bastard child. The rules and the playing field are slanted. Look at what we do for a classical, Western music program. Weâ€™re going to offer private lessons on each instrument. Right? Okay, where are we going to get professors? Well, obviously we have to get the best musicians from in or outside of the area; weâ€™ll get the ones that are doing it on the highest level; weâ€™ll go to the symphonyâ€”and we have got to pay these guys with tenure and benefits, because theyâ€™re deserving artists, right? And then you go to the jazz program and youâ€™ve gotâ€”I donâ€™t know who; people that have limited experience in the real world of the music. Itâ€™s just as simple as that.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: Doesnâ€™t that seem to be shifting?
Broom: Maybe very little. Those few of us that have teaching positions at the college and university level are most often relegated to the adjunct level. I understand that half of all college level teaching positions in the U.S. are adjunct, but in comparing jazz department positions with classical, there is clearly inequity. No, I donâ€™t see things shifting quickly enough.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: But there are more working musicians that are teaching locally now. Youâ€™ve got Joel Spencer, Dennis Carroll, Pharez Whitted, yourselfâ€¦
Broom: But there are still those that are performers at the highest level that should be, but are not, teaching. Those who have established themselves, either by playing locally and internationally at that level, currently, with great names in jazz, or by simply being outstanding artistic voices that the youngsters and the true jazz cognoscenti realize. Dan Trudell, George Fludas and Pat Mallinger come to mind as examplesâ€¦ You knowâ€¦ [sighs] I donâ€™t understand why musician X is not being heralded. Is it because heâ€™s not from here? Neither am I. But he lives here and heâ€™s lived here for twenty years, and so have I. And he could be among the greatest pianists ever to have played the music. Itâ€™s my humble opinion and the opinion of those who I hear from and/or run around with. Among these are great musicians, people who have played with the greats, students of jazz, jazz fans and casual listenersâ€¦ we all agree. This issue has left the subjective realm. I mean, it becomes objective when the collective agrees and consensus saysâ€”Miles Davis was the cat, Sonny Rollins, Trane, Wes, Bird, Monk, blah-blah -blah-blahâ€” we all agree that these were great jazz musicians; itâ€™s no farce; thereâ€™s no disillusionment. And I can use my gift of understanding this music â€“ the ability to judge good from bad, my aesthetic â€“ into present day situations. And I do and I feel strongly about it. That same standard of excellence that we use to identify the jazz legends must also be used to measure the modern jazz musician. Thereâ€™s no reason to start deferring to personal taste and subjectivity just because a great musician is not famous, is more skilled than me, or happens to live in my neighborhood.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: Distance lends enchantment.
Broom: Yes, yes, exactly. Thatâ€™s what it is. But close your eyes; just close your eyes and if you canâ€™t hear itâ€¦ I donâ€™t know what to tell you. George Fludas has played with the world of jazz; you know his resume donâ€™t you? And, he is one of the most articulate, thoughtful, intelligent men that I know. Come on, man! I mean, it would be an honor for any program to have him, and for the kids to be able to get whatever they could from somebody that has that much experience in the field. And he continues to grow todayâ€”heâ€™s not somebody that decided: Iâ€™m going go teach because Iâ€˜m afraid I wonâ€™t make it as a player. Heâ€™s no dabbler. Not a guy like that! A musician like that has devoted his life to playing this musicâ€”come hell or high water! Some people shouldnâ€™t play jazz for life. But thatâ€™s a personal matter for each of us to figure out for ourselves. Some others realize why they should, and dedicate themselves to that end for the long haul. Among these people are those, who over time, continue to develop and can point to successes and achievements in the actual field of jazz performance at a certain level. These are the true teachers of this music.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: Education being such an important part of your life, what are some of the books that have most influenced you?
Broom: Well, itâ€™s hard to say whatâ€™s been most influential, but I was very uplifted by The African Origin of Civilization by Cheik Diop. I liked Richard Wright when I was in grade school. I love Zora Neal for her story telling and her celebration of the culture. I have spurts where I read often. [Reaches for travel bag and pulls out three books.] I find my attention to reading as relaxation is better when Iâ€™m traveling. I just finished this: Lies my Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen. Itâ€™s American history. Or rather, â€œherstory.â€ Now Iâ€™m reading Black Spark, White Fire by Richard Poe. Itâ€™s African history. And to lighten things up, I Put a Spell On Youâ€”The Autobiography of Nina Simone. Recently, I read an inspiring book by Hazrat Inayat Khan called The Mysticism of Sound and Music. He was born in the late 1800s and was an early twentieth century vina player turned sufi mystic and teacher. In his book he talks about aspects of music that are relative to spiritual understanding and also some things that are pertinent to jazz. He mentions jazz in some of his comments and he seemed to dislike the jazz that was the popular dance music of the 1920s, the time of his writings. He did have some reverence for the music though and actually attributed the art to blacks, citing its rhythm as an essential element. He wrote about things like finding oneâ€™s voice, imitation as a means of learning a musical language and improvisation.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: How did you end up in Chicago and why have you chosen to remain here?
Broom: I moved to Chicago from New York in 1984, at a time in my life when I was young and very confused. I decided to move here to pursue a relationship really, but not being thoroughly comfortable with that decision, I thought Iâ€™d better go back to college and finish the undergrad degree Iâ€™d started before I began recording and traveling. It was quite a backward move at the time. I had a hard time coming to terms with it. It took nearly ten years and a failed marriage before I was finally really able to let go and forgive myself. As far as my career was concerned, I soon found myself on the road nationally and internationally as I had been from out of New York, so it was just like, I live in Chicago now. In hindsight, one benefit of being here was that I was removed from the influence of the model of what current jazz guitar was supposed to be. So I was practicing and concentrating on what I sounded like and trying to accept that. I can almost remember the day when my own sound spoke to me in that special way. Then in the late eighties I started making stronger musical ties with guys like Ron Blake, Dennis Carroll and George Fludas; Lloyd Wilson, Baabe Irving and the guys in Milesâ€™ band; and then Greg Rockingham and Chris Foreman. Then, we were all trying to play in as serious a way as possible and, once again, I felt nurtured and lovedâ€”that bond that you make with only select people in your life. I used to tell myself that I wanted to create a strong enough sound that it wouldnâ€™t matter where I lived. And so, through it all, thatâ€™s what I was doing. I feel I may have missed out on some recording opportunities in the mid to late eighties and nineties with my peers in New York at the timeâ€”the jazz kids in suitsâ€”but who knows? Anyway, I canâ€™t really complain. It hasnâ€™t been a bad ride for a Chicago jazz-guitar player. I made some cool connections since Iâ€™ve been here. Iâ€™ve recorded, plus I have two strong bands that were developed from scratch. Maybe it doesnâ€™t have as much to do with Chicago or New York as I thought. I think Iâ€™ll stay! [laughs] In addition to music, now I have such a happy lifeâ€”a wonderful and loving wife, Maureen, and the best, sweetest, most beautiful and smart daughter, Nicole, whoâ€™s grown into quite the young womanâ€¦ Shoot, I even like my in-laws!
Chicago Jazz Magazine: Tell us what you are working on currently.
Broom: Well, letâ€™s seeâ€¦ I just got my masterâ€™s degree in jazz pedagogy from Northwestern University. I finished that in June. I started working with Sonny again just this past spring. It was totally unexpected. But we keep in touch and he asked for my help on his return to performing after the death of his wife of thirty-six years, Lucille. Iâ€™ll be in Japan with him soon and weâ€™ll be traveling around the States a bit prior to that. The Deep Blue Organ Trio should be getting to work soon on post-production of the new live CD/DVD recording. Iâ€™m also trying to put finishing touches on a recent Bobby Broom Trio video shoot. Meanwhile, Iâ€™m looking toward the release of that groupâ€™s second CD. Itâ€™s done and I think itâ€™s better than the first one [Stand!]. I hope to let people decide that for themselves.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: You referred to racism earlier in the interview. Do you believe there is racism in jazz music? If so, how is racism manifested?
Broom: Of courseâ€”to say that nothing has anything to do with race anymore is the great escape of the day. The fact is that racism is an antiquated term. We need to come up with something more modern, one thatâ€™s pertinent to whatâ€™s happening now. I feel that race is an issue that American society has yet to properly face and take some genuine responsibility for. Why should it if it doesnâ€™t have to? The most obviously heinous parts of the problem are all over and done with. Now we just have to deal with the aftermath, which nobody has any time to think aboutâ€¦ Just pile â€˜em up over there, weâ€™ll get to it later. And no, I canâ€™t look to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s as an answer either. No real justice was done by simply not mistreating black folk in the same old way any longer. And the effects of four hundred years certainly canâ€™t be effectively dealt with in forty. [Sighs] Anywayâ€¦ As long as jazz is handled as business in this country it will be subject to the same paradigm as the other institutions. How can we honestly believe that there is not racism in jazz and at the same time not even be comfortable enough in ourselves to state that jazz music is an art conceived by the African-American? By continuing to condone and celebrate mediocrity as artistic and by confusing the definition of jazz by diluting, distilling and obscuring the importance of its essential elements, swing and the blues, we are ostensibly hijacking it from its place of origin and shifting its meaning and purpose.