A couple of years ago, while searching for new material to play with his trio, the critically acclaimed jazz guitarist Bobby Broom made several discoveries that would significantly broaden his repertoire.
First, he re-discovered his love of the 1960s and 1970s pop songs that he heard as a youngster when according to Broom, "everything on the radio sounded good". Second, he experienced a newfound respect and admiration for the pop songwriters of the 60s and 70s period. He discovered that if he chose the right songs and arranged them carefully, the material offered new opportunities to express himself as a jazz artist. "I could create my art over them," he says. And, he discovered that on stage, tapping into this repertoire helped to create a bond between he and his audience. "I realized that playing melodies that may be more recognizable to the listener was good for both me and them."
Now with the release of Stand!, the record that developed out of these discoveries, Broom adds his name to the growing list of jazz artists offering up startlingly fresh interpretations of unexpected pop material.
In many ways, the "new" approach that Stand! represents makes perfect sense for an artist whose musical gift has taken him in a variety of directions throughout a 20 year career.
Born and raised in New York City (b. 1/18/61), Broom was introduced to jazz at age 11 when his father brought home the Charles Earland record, Black Talk. Broom became attached to it and began to study guitar in earnest. At age 15, while working in the pit band of an off-off Broadway production, Broom was discovered by one of Sonny Rollins` sidemen and invited to audition for Rollins` band. Sonny asked Broom to tour with his band but Broom heeded his parent`s wishes that he graduate high school before embarking on a career.
In 1979, after a stint at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Broom returned to New York City. He quickly became one of the "young lions," joining Art Blakey`s Jazz Messengers in 1980 (a band that also featured a young Wynton Marsalis, who remains to today a musical confidant of Broom`s). After Blakey, Broom worked with the jazz-funk trumpeter Tom Browne and began to tour the world. A Japanese tour with GRP Records co-founder Dave Grusin led to a record deal with GRP and the release of his first record as a leader (Clean Sweep). In 1982, Sonny Rollins called again and Broom spent the next four years touring and recording with the tenor sax giant. In 1987, Broom was tabbed by Miles Davis to join his band and Broom ended up playing five gigs with Miles' electric band. Broom quickly learned that, despite the honor he felt performing with Miles Davis, his heart and style were not aligned with the music of Miles` band. An opportunity arose to join guitar legend Kenny Burrell in his "Jazz Guitar Band" and Broom took it. Several years of touring and two recordings for Blue Note Records followed with Burrell calling Broom, "one of the most innovative guitarist I`ve heard in recent times." At that point, Broom left New York for Chicago to pursue other personal goals that included his college education and family life.
Since the move he has formed his own trio, performing regularly 2-3 nights a week in a powerful, straight ahead fashion. In the process, he has become a very important figure on Chicago`s vibrant jazz scene. In more than one glowing review, The Chicago Tribune has used words like "ingenious, estimable, and remarkable" to describe Broom. He has also continued to tour: a couple of years with Charles Earland, as a member of Kenny Garrett`s `Pursuance` band and five years in the band of New Orleans' great Dr. John, including a record which he co-produced for Blue Note Records, solidifying his diversity.
Which brings us to Stand! When asked about the message behind this release and the "new" direction it proposes for him, Broom is quick to explain that despite its repertoire, the record is not conceptual, it comes from within. "With this record I`m not trying to make a grandiose statement like these are the new standards", says Broom. "I`m simply playing songs that evoke feelings for me from my lifetime and that offer enough melodically and harmonically for me to use as a basis for improvisation and ultimately, communication. I felt these songs 30 years ago in ways that I can still feel when I hear them today. Now, in playing this music I can try to express some of what I felt then and feel now through my interpretation."
A striking quality about Stand! is the way Broom tackles the material. He chooses not to significantly alter the songs harmonically or structurally, preferring instead to allow the pathos of the songwriters to come through. "My intention with this record is simply to reintroduce these songs to the listener as viable material", says Broom. "My reverence and awareness of the beauty of each of these songs as written by their composers (in their original melodic and harmonic forms) is what directed me to play them the way that I have. For the purposes of interpretation, I saw no reason to make major compositional changes to what I consider to be classic material." The results are powerful. Stand! transports the listener to a different era in a free flowing, jazz improvisation filled moment in time.
Broom credits his sidemen with a major contribution to Stand! Dana Hall, currently drummer with the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band among other important gigs, and Dennis Carroll, who has been a first call bassist on the Chicago scene for the past ten years, are Broom`s working trio. "This record", says Broom, "developed largely as a result of playing with great musicians who share a love of music in general (in its many styles and forms) and are open to expressing that. Dennis and Dana feel basically the same way I do about music and what will and won't work in the context of the trio."
Not surprisingly, audiences at his performances around Chicago responded positively. "For me, the bandstand isn't some kind of void where I`m not concerned with how or if I`m connecting with my audience," says Broom. "My art, the art of jazz improvisation, is enough of an enigma. The least I can do is try to provide a musical common ground to those listening to me. Then maybe what I`m doing won`t seem so foreign."
Highlights of Stand! include Broom's gorgeous, warm sound coming to the forefront on the Steve Wonder song "Come Back As A Flower," from Wonder's perplexing 1979 album, Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants. An up-tempo, 7/4 version of The Turtles' classic, "Happy Together", where Broom flashes his remarkable technique. And the title track by Sly Stone, which Broom remembers to have had an important message for Black Americans and people in general during the '70s.