Jazz Guitar Today: Is Bobby Broom a Renaissance Master of Jazz Guitar?
Heralded player and renown educator, it sure does look that way…
Bobby Broom holds a Master’s of Music degree in jazz pedagogy from Northwestern University, and has taught at the University of Hartford’s Hartt School of Music, DePaul University, North Park University and Chicago’s American Conservatory of Music. He was recently appointed Assistant Professor of jazz studies and jazz guitar at Northern Illinois University.
He conducts clinics, master classes and lectures nationwide and abroad, is a teaching artist with the Herbie Handcock Institute and has been a Ravinia Jazz Mentor to Chicago Public School students for more than 18 years. Bobby has written guest editorial and instructional pieces for national magazines, DownBeat, Jazz Times and Jazziz. – Bob Bakert, Editor
Pat Metheny cited Broom’s 2007 Song and Dance recording as “one of the best (jazz) guitar trio records ever!”
JGT: You have worked with some of the biggest names in jazz and have built a solid reputation as a headlining leader. How have your experiences working with the luminaries molded and influenced your performance style and music that we witness today?
Well, it’s probably a combination of observing some of the superstars that I’ve worked with, as well as my own personality musically speaking, that makes me tend to want to get up off of the stool and try to connect with both my musicians on stage and my audiences. I seem to become very engaged in the music, in a physical sense, in the music’s creation and I generally approach playing the guitar that way as well. I remember going to see Sonny Rollins play one time years ago when I was a kid and I remember feeling afraid that he was going to explode or implode or something, because he was playing with such physical fire. Everyone has their own way of doing things, but I tend to lean more in that direction. I also find that I need to be in good physical shape in order to get the best out of myself when I play.
JGT: I’d like to ask a little more about the emphasis and importance of your physical conditioning. Please tell us some more about that.
Many years ago, back in 1989, I remember doing an educational exchange program in Dolo, Italy with an early edition of the then, Thelonius Monk institute (currently the Herbie Hancock Institute). I was 28 years old and it was during my early days as a jazz educator. I was teaching alongside jazz legends like Gary Bartz, Curtis Fuller, Walter Bishop, Jr and institute director Paul Jeffrey. Anyway, Gary asked me to go running with him one day. I balked when he told me he was going to run 5 miles, but he convinced me that I could do it and he was correct! Although, I don’t believe I’ve ever done it since!
A few years after that, routine exercise – cardio and moderate weight training mainly with machines – became a regular part of my life. Since then, it has continued to be something that I do. I realized years ago that it was helpful to me for having reserve energy back in the days when I had to play a lot of 3rd sets. Generally, having a familiar place inside to go physically to draw from in terms of stamina and energy is a helpful thing, I find.
As I mentioned, I play with a certain energy and physicality, and I need to feel emboldened to do so effectively or successfully. I can’t imagine trying to approach playing while feeling run-down, or unable to dig deep for the energy that I need. I’ve always associated the physical act of playing as a whole-body experience – my feet, head and/or other limbs are maintaining pulses of the beat, while my fingers deal with subdivisions of those pulses or other juxtaposed rhythms. I have yet to figure out a way to handle all of that while sitting completely still.
JGT: What is your current “voice”? What guitars(s) and amps do you use… backline favorites?
For the past 10 years or so I’ve been using Henriksen amplifiers. I like what they’re doing as far as solid-state goes. My guitar is the Dan Koentopp Chicago and Amp model. He’s a great young luthier and built this guitar for me around three years ago now I don’t really play anything else.
JGT: Strings, action height, etc?
For over 25 years, “DR Legends,” 13 – 54 Hex core wrapped, stainless steel flat wounds. I swear by them for their feel/texture and brightness of tone. My guitar tech laughs at me for having action that’s so low that it’s just high enough off the frets not to buzz. That’s how I roll I guess.
JGT: You hold a Masters degree from Northwestern and your credits as an educator and lecturer are prodigious. You have an incredible list of associations and performances as well as tremendous academic accomplishments. Can you speak to your philosophy, experiences and outlook on the importance of jazz education today? How did/does it benefit you in your creative pursuits?
I came up during the nascent era in jazz education. There weren’t many university/college programs that offered jazz music as a degree program and even fewer contests and extracurricular offerings outside of the education systems. However, music was still supported in grade schools at the time, so if one was fortunate enough to have a teacher that loved and could teach jazz, they were in luck! Also, there were different kinds of opportunities in communities via musicians themselves who dedicated part of their time to working with and teaching youngsters about jazz, whether it was in an organized way or by allowing them to play alongside them, as in a mentor/apprentice situation.
I benefited from all three of these kinds of education when it came to learning music. I took after school classes in theory in junior high school, went to a performing arts high school and then to Berklee College (to begin my undergrad pursuit). I also had mentors like (pianist, composer) Weldon Irvine, Al Haig (Charlie Parker’s pianist), Sonny Rollins and Jackie McLean (who gave me my first opportunity in jazz education). So I had the best of traditional, bandstand and the mentor/apprenticeship models of jazz education. Most all programs at every level of jazz education are trying to achieve this methodological cocktail to some degree.
The overabundance of jazz ed opportunities has obviously affected the music in many way – too many to get into here. Suffice it to say that although it’s more rare to find self-taught jazz musicians, it’s as rare as it ever was to find true unique jazz voices and innovators.
JGT: What is it about the organ trio that you, Pat Martino, Dave Stryker, and others love? Many of our readers are getting into jazz from rock, blues, country, etc. and the absence of a bass player is very foreign. Many people don’t know the origin and tradition of the organ/drums/guitar trio?
The Hammond organ was popularized in the late 1960s, pretty much singlehandedly by Jimmy Smith. However, Fats Waller played the organ (see “Jitterbug Waltz”), as did a few others before it became a sub-genre of jazz. As importantly, around that time the organ was a part of the sound within so many “classic Rock” hits. With or without electric bass, it was a staple sound in the pop music of that era.
In jazz specifically, the instrumentation was organ, sax and drums and then organ, guitar and drums with the recordings of Jimmy Smith, especially with Kenny Burrell. Wes Montgomery’s first group on records was a formidable organ trio from his hometown of Indianapolis (featuring the great Melvin Rhyne). After that it became part of the jazz guitar heritage to play with an organist because seemingly, all of the great guitarists did – Grant Green, Benson, Martino… Since then, Sco, Peter Bernstein, me and others have carried on that tradition.
JGT: What is your philosophy in the recording studio? For example, do you chart things out or play in the same room at the same time? Do you compose or overdub solos or just “let it rip”?
I don’t have a single philosophy… other than being prepared!!! Different types of recording projects call for different approaches to capturing the music. I thought I’d never record my own record, live to 2-track with everyone in the same room, until I did it. I was approached with the idea and scoffed, until I heard the sonic results of other projects the producer had done. Because of the super-high quality of sound, I was compelled to do it and am very happy that I did. Other records are done with semi or minimal isolation. With everyone playing together and minimal overdubbing. Some projects allow for more crafting, over-dubbing and post production. Again, the important common theme is preparation, which can mean a lot of different things that cover many areas. One has to factor in overall musicality; a command of their instrument and music and then the particular music that’s being presented on the album; understanding the studio and the difference between it and the live bandstand… There are aspects of making recordings that can only be learned and understood by experience. And yes, sometimes I’ll prepare charts if the music calls for it – i.e., is difficult and/or unfamiliar.
JGT: Do you have a favorite of your recordings… if someone was to ask you you for three of our recordings that best exemplify your work (tough question) and why?
I always say that that question is like asking a parent to name their favorite child… Although, secretly… (ha, ha…). I’ll have to list 5. My first record, “Clean Sweep,” was such an honest and accurate representation of my musical self at the time. I was 20 years old and now when I hear something from it I think, “I was pretty darn good at that young age!” I certainly was presenting myself the way I best could and wanted to. Next are the duo of “Modern Man” and “Stand!,” both released in 2001. Though very different, they were both super honest and clear presentations of two different sides of my vision for myself as a jazz guitarist. “Stand!” was my first release with the guitar trio (guitar, bass and drums) and displayed the first, fully matured, guitar-focused view of my style, sound and idiosyncrasies, as well as my musical vision as far as the music I chose to present and the way of doing so. At that time (2000), hardly anyone was playing “Monday, Monday,” “Stand!,” and those kinds of songs in a genuine jazz format. I’m not saying that I was the first to play pop songs in jazz, because I wasn’t’t. Jazz was predicated on this practice. However, at that time it wasn’t a popular thing to be doing – especially for young-ish jazz musicians who were trying to establish themselves.
After that, “Song and Dance” to me represents the BBT as a fully realized group. Not to mention, Pat Metheny noted it as a favorite of his! The Group dynamics and chemistry are palpable on that one and compelled me to do some really good playing (as did the “…Plays for Monk Record”). See!!! I told you, it’s not easy to pick my favorites in this way!! Lastly, I’d have to say the latest, “Soul Fingers” because it highlights the new group and our remarkable and formidable chemistry. I love the production on this one. Of course, it’s Steve Jordan! He compelled me to do some of my best work. And the strings were a dream!!
JGT: The scene today is both tough and vibrant… do you have advice for the aspiring player who wants to record, perform etc?
Love and dedicate yourself to music. That way you’ll be on the right track and attracted to the right influences for the right reasons. There is so much information and influence around us now. Too much. I can’t imagine being a youngster and trying to navigate to see my way through all of it. But obviously, there are people doing it the right way all the time – whatever the era and circumstances. Just please know that ‘modern’ doesn’t necessarily mean better. It’s just new right now, but may not necessarily be substantive enough to last. The music will tell you what is of substance and age won’t have any bearing on that.
JGT: Who do you listen to for inspiration…?
Who or whatever I hear that touches my heart. It will undoubtedly be someone who was tapped into the source at the time of the performance. Great art is so rare and yet, so plentiful.