May 23, 2024

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Every modern jazz guitarist in Chicago is indebted to Bobby Broom: Video

18.01. – Happy Birthday !!! Most musicians would be happy to experience one artistic breakthrough. Thirty-two years into his distinguished, wide-ranging career in jazz, guitarist Bobby Broom seems to have an endless supply of them.

His 2009 album Bobby Broom Plays for Monk hit an artistic high-water mark with its “daring arrangements” and “small gems of musical discovery”. Featuring his long-standing Chicago trio, it capped a series of recordings designed to promote Broom, celebrated for his work with Sonny Rollins and Kenny Burrell’s Jazz Guitar Band, as a leader and nurturer of young talent himself.

In 2011, Broom’s other working band, the Deep Blue Organ Trio, achieved commercial mass attention with its fourth album, Wonderful!, a scintillating collection of Stevie Wonder songs. A crossover triumph in the best sense, it further affirmed why Steely Dan has requested them as their opening act on tours in recent years.

In 2012, Broom achieved yet another breakthrough with Upper West Side Story, his first all-original recording, which he described as “an ode to where I’m from.”

In 2014, after a North American tour opening for Steely Dan with his guiar/organ trio, the Bobby Broom Organi-Sation, his album “My Shining Hour” debuted, and soared into the JazzWeek Top 10, peaking at #3, and spending 8 of 13 weeks in the Top 10. It was the #38 Album in America in the annual JazzWeek Top 100 Albums of the Year 2014 as well as making several audiophile lists for album of the year.

Broom now belongs to a highly exclusive club of jazz guitarists with a unique sound and pervasive influence. “Every modern jazz guitarist in Chicago is indebted to Bobby Broom,” wrote Jeff Parker, the guitarist best known for his work with the “post-rock” instrumental band Tortoise, in the program booklet for a 2011 concert in Europe. “He opened up the doors of perception for us all—he is a master jazz stylist and a musical visionary.”

“Broom has one of the few truly recognizable styles among modern guitarists, and one of the most satisfying solo concepts in mainstream jazz,” wrote critic Neil Tesser in the Chicago Jazz Music Examiner.

Indeed, the DownBeat Critics Poll has recognized Broom as one of the world’s top JazzGuitarists from 2012-2014

Broom is a role model for younger guitarists all over the world not only because he has attained such a high level of artistry with the airy density and hairpin fluidity of his improvising. He also has set a sterling example in remaining true to himself in the face of people telling him to settle for less—like the agents who said he didn’t have what it took to be a leader and should accept his role as a sideman.

Broom was a 16-year-old prodigy attending New York’s High School of Music and Art and performing several nights a week with pianist Al Haig at a 62nd Street club called Gregory’s. He turned down an invitation from Sonny Rollins to go on the road. Only after attending the Berklee College of Music and beginning his career back home in New York City did he accept the offer four years later.

Bobby went on to enjoy two stints (1982-1987 and 2005-2010) with Rollins, who recently told DownBeat, “Bobby is one of my favorite musicians. He explains why I like the guitar. He’s got a strong musical sixth sense.”

Broom also flashed his independent streak when he was asked to join Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers as that legendary band’s first and only guitarist. Instead of signing up, along with new recruit Wynton Marsalis, Broom joined his Queens, NY friends Omar Hakim, Marcus Miller, and Bernard Wright in trumpeter Tom Browne’s popular crossover band – which to his ears was making equally good music.

Smooth-jazz stardom beckoned following Broom’s GRP Records debut, Clean Sweep, a polished blend of jazz and urban soul on which he sang and played in the vein of George Benson’s mega-selling Breezin’, and the keyboard-heavy Livin’ for the Beat. But Broom went in another direction, literally.

In 1984, he uprooted himself from New York and, for personal reasons, moved to the Windy City, where he continued touring with Rollins, joined forces with Kenny Burrell, played briefly with Miles Davis’s group, and performed with such local Chicago stalwart players as organ veteran Charles Earland and young saxophonists Eric Alexander and Ron Blake. (He also taught early on at the American Conservatory of Music and Roosevelt University and more recently at DePaul University and as part of the Ravinia Festival’s jazz mentor program working with high school students.)

“I justified my move by intense practicing, finishing my undergraduate work, and realizing that New York was only a two-hour flight away,” said Broom. “It’s not as though I was cutting my ties to jazz.” In fact, he continued them and made new ones with his membership in the bands of people like Miles, Burrell, Kenny Garrett, and Dr. John. It was after his brief stint as a member Miles’s band that he realized he had dwindling interest in playing fusion, or any music that required pedals and gizmos. He has pursued his own path since then.

With its openness to diverse musical styles and approaches, Chicago proved the perfect place to go for someone looking to establish himself on his own terms. In 1991, Broom launched his guitar trio and by 1997 had settled into a long- standing weekly gig with bassist Dennis Carroll and drummer Kobie Watkins at Pete Miller’s, a restaurant/club in the northern Chicago suburb of Evanston.

On Modern Man (2001), an all-star blowing session featuring Dr. Lonnie Smith, Ronnie Cuber, and Idris Muhammad, and two albums by his trio, Stand (2001) and Song and Dance (2006, which Pat Metheny called “one of the best jazz guitar trio records I’ve ever heard”), Broom offered smart reworkings of pop classics such as “Wichita Lineman,” “The Letter,” and “Layla.” He showed forethought in taking a jazz approach to non-traditional material and embracing the value of reaching wider audiences who were unschooled in traditional jazz. The Way I Play, a live set of mainstream jazz standards, followed. And then came the Monk album.

Broom came close to dropping the Monk project after considering the redundancy of yet another Monk record. “I wondered if there wasn’t something just a bit too obvious in another jazz artist playing Monk,” said Broom. “Then I started to feel the challenge to do it in my own way, with the particular sound that my trio has.” Never one to back down from a challenge, Broom carried on.

No such doubts accompanied the recording of Wonderful!, an idea that was waiting to happen for Broom, perennially unsung organist Chris Foreman, and drummer Greg Rockingham. Largely drawn from the ’70s, the album features venerated album cuts like “As” (from Songs in the Key of Life) and “Golden Lady” (from Innervisions).

Broom makes no bones about the organ trio having a broader appeal than his guitar trio, which now features the exciting young drummer Makaya McCraven. “Deep Blue has a much more immediately accessible sound and this very specific, built-in niche audience of organ jazz and alternative music lovers,” said the guitarist. “But the guitar trio continues to excite me and when I hear that guys like Metheny and Scofield appreciate the group, then I know I’ve got to keep going.” The opportunity to pursue a dual career with the two exceptional bands yields its own considerable rewards. (Watkins, who on the strength of Broom’s endorsement became a member of Rollins’s band, plays on six of the tunes on Upper West Side Story. McCraven is featured on the other three.)

Deep Blue broke up in 2012, after touring with Steely Dan as an opening act. The organ trio, honoring the concept pioneered by the great Wes Anderson, was reborn as The Bobby Broom Organi-Sation, powered by drummer Makaya McCraven and the great young organist, Ben Paterson.

As a composer, Broom lets his ideas for songs emerge “naturally,” he said. “You’re never going to find me sitting there looking for a lost chord. I’m never one to force things. I can be sitting in a hotel room and suddenly, something just comes out, and as I’m writing I’m thinking, where did that come from? I may not have use for the composition at that time, so I’ll record it and just store it away in my computer. Maybe later on a song will suddenly stand out.

“That’s what happened with ‘Upper West Side Story.’ I was looking for something and it was there on my hard drive. The trio learned it and we recorded it the following day. I liked that the song form seems to go in some different directions rather than the conventional patterns and I’d like to do more writing like that.”

Awards: Down Beat Magazine 2008 Critics’ Poll, “Talent Deserving Wider Recognition” among guitarists 50 Best Jazz CDs of 2008 – for “The Way I Play”, Bobby Broom Trio Chicago Music Award, 2008 Best Jazz CD – for “Folk Music”, the Deep Blue Organ Trio

Gear: Bobby Broom plays the Höfner Jazzica guitar and Henriksen Jazz Amps.

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