Born: January 18, 1961 Primary Instrument: Guitar
Most musicians would be happy to experience one artistic breakthrough. Thirty 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” (JazzTimes) and “small gems of musical discovery” (DownBeat). 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. Now, having scored with other people’s songs, Broom achieves yet another breakthrough with Upper West Side Story, his first all-original recording, which he describes as “an ode to where I’m from.” Some of the songs are recent, like the bubbly, quick-hitting “Fambrocious,” a spontaneous studio invention that pays fond tribute to Broom’s late bassist buddy Charles Fambrough. Other songs, like the surging, shape-shifting “Minor Major Mishap,” appeared on previous recordings. Taken together, these pieces offer a compelling portrait of the artist, who doesn’t think in terms of breakthroughs himself. “I’ve made ten records in the past ten years and each one of them is an offering,” said Broom. “They’re all part of the ongoing process of creating music. But I purposely waited to make a record of all originals. I feel that can be a sort of run-of-the-mill thing to do—that everyone is doing it. But, you know, I’ve been out here 30 years now and people need to know who I am beyond my guitar sound and style. This album reveals more of me.” However you chart his success, 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. The 51-year-old Broom is a role model for younger guitarists 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. When 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. He went on to enjoy two stints (1982-1987 and 2005-2010) with the great tenor saxophonist, 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.) 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.” Following its fetching pop-melodic opening, “Upper West Side Story” gathers complexity with its hand-in-glove linear and chordal attack and steadily deepening harmonies. In contrast, “D’s Blues” is very basic: a straight-up, three-chord blues. But the song acquires compelling shadows through the contrast of Broom’s light, skimming lines and Carroll’s muscular, darkly melodic tones. “Call Me a Cab” provides an adrenaline hit with its edgy repeating riff and loping gait. “Father,” a knotty Brazilian-tinged tune originally featured on Broom’s 1996 Criss Cross album, No Hype Blues, acquires fresh meaning from recent events in the guitarist’s life.
In a short span, Broom relocated his aging father and mother from Florida to Chicago and welcomed his new son to the world. If he ever needed inspiration, for his work and for his life, it now waits for him in the beaming smile of the impossibly cute little boy. “I go into his room in the morning and it’s all right there,” said the proud papa, beaming himself. Breakthroughs don’t get any bigger than that.
Awards:Down Beat Magazine 2008 Critics' Poll, "Talent Deserving Wider Recognition" among guitarists jazz.com 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
Bobby Broom's trio can be compared with Sonny Rollins' and the classic John Coltrane Quartet. - Owen Cordle, JazzTimes
The mighty fire of Broom’s playing…seems to have grown hotter and deeper in recent seasons. - Joe Woodard, Jazziz
Song And Dance (Origin Records, 2007)
Stand! (Premonition Records, 2001)
Modern Man (Delmark, 2001)
Waiting and Waiting (Criss Cross, 1997)
No Hype Blues (Criss Cross,1995)
Livin' for the Beat (Arista, 1983)
Clean Sweep (Arista/GRP, 1981)
With the Deep Blue Organ Trio:
Folk Music (Origin Records, 2008)
Goin' To Town - Live at The Green Mill (Delmark, 2006)
Deep Blue Bruise (Delmark, 2004)
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Willing to teach:
Intermediate to advanced students
DePaul University - 2002 to 2008 Chicago Musical College, Roosevelt University (formerly the American Conservatory of Music) - 1987 to 1992 Hartt School of Music, University of Hartford - 1982 to 1984 Ravinia Music In the Schools, Jazz Mentor 2000 to present The Thelonious Monk Institute in 1989 and presently