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Interviews

Bobby Bradford: Self-Determination in the Great Basin

By Published: October 28, 2009
Bobby BradfordAAJ: Being in small town Texas wasn't the right thing at the time.

BB: I can't tell you how rough it was—it was dreadful. It was the kind of town in the Baptist Belt where people would look through my trash and ask me about beer or wine bottles in the trash. Of course I had some good friends there, too, but I couldn't stay and we moved out. We stayed with my mother at first, and I looked around for a job and there weren't any available for a music teacher from Texas (even if I'd been from LA, it wouldn't have mattered). So I took a job as a workman's comp adjuster. If you get a blue suit, you know, you can go to work the next day. By 1966-1967, [reedman] John Carter called me out of the blue. I knew his name; he was teaching in the school systems in Los Angeles and I was working 9-5, practicing a little but not really playing. He got my number from Ornette, introduced himself, and wanted to start a band playing original music.

So we got together right away and started talking, and found that we had a lot in common—we both studied to be teachers, both had families, and we were both interested in the New Music. We searched around and found a bassist and drummer who were sympathetic. I think the first public appearance we made was in 1968—we were rehearsing regularly for about a year before we got a job. That first band was with Tom Williamson on bass and Bruz Freeman, [saxophonist] Von and [guitarist] George's brother, on drums.

AAJ: How did you select that pair for your "rhythm section?"

BB: We put an ad out that we were looking for a band, and not a lot of people showed up. Most that did, once they saw the music and heard us play, they bailed out right away—good, strong beboppers, but if you didn't have a chord chart they weren't interested.

AAJ: Well, Bruz played with [pianist] Hampton Hawes

Hampton Hawes
Hampton Hawes
1928 - 1977
piano
and people like that, too.

BB: Sarah Vaughan
Sarah Vaughan
Sarah Vaughan
1924 - 1990
vocalist
, also—he was a good bebop drummer, but he was real open. He liked what he heard right away, as did Tom. We were both writing—John more than I was. We were doing original music, something that either of us wrote, and they were into it.

AAJ: What struck me immediately upon hearing Seeking (Revelation, 1969) was how different it was. I'd been through the Ornette and Don Cherry records and was as a listener familiar with that language, and was expecting more of the same, but it really isn't.

BB: That's right. A lot of people who aren't careful make that assumption—I get people all the time who say "you listened to Don Cherry, didn't you" and I have to stop them. That's like saying "Chet Baker listened to Harry James
Harry James
Harry James
b.1916
trumpet
"—it's so remote. Don was a wonderful trumpet player and a very talented guy, but the connection between his playing and mine—it's just not really there.

AAJ: You've got an incisive and very direct sound. I was going to ask who you were really listening to at that point.

BB: When I first played trumpet, I listened to what anybody else would—Dizzy, Miles, Fats Navarro
Fats Navarro
Fats Navarro
1923 - 1950
trumpet
. I think Fats was my favorite out of all those guys, but I liked Kenny Dorham
Kenny Dorham
Kenny Dorham
1924 - 1972
trumpet
and all of them. I liked a lot of saxophonists too. But beyond that, the only thing John and I had in common with Ornette was philosophy. The lines that John wrote had very little to do with Ornette—the way he chose to develop them, you know.

AAJ: There was a sense of orchestral color to it, too, and well before John had done any large ensemble compositions—a weight behind it.

BB: John was a thoroughly schooled classical musician with a master's degree from Boulder. He wasn't fooling around with the clarinet—he'd been playing it all the way through, and later on began playing saxophones so he could get work. Anybody with that background isn't going to throw it away, especially when they begin to write. People would say "he's trying to write classical music," and two bars into a piece you knew right away it was American music with a connection to jazz. When people compared him to Ornette, John would get really upset—after about five questions about Ornette Coleman he'd say 'we can move on now.' If you play improvised music without chords, you become an Ornette Coleman disciple, so to speak. To that extent, they just put us in the free jazz camp.

AAJ: What was the response like when you started performing out as a group?

Bobby BradfordBB: Around LA? There was just a small community; we played places that would seat 50 people or on the university campuses where if you played interesting music, they'd hire you. Generally, most people looked at us pretty strange—one guy I had known back in the '50s said "man, you used to be a pretty good trumpeter, but that Ornette just ruined you" [laughs].

AAJ: Also, in the latter half of the '60s, performance spaces for creative music were few, because of the influx of rock and psychedelic music.

BB: Of course, that impacted everybody, yes, but even now LA is a town of post-bop players. There is some new music activity, but it's limited and the places are hard to come by and don't last long. In spite of that, there is a population of individuals who like playing this music—younger people like [reedman] Vinny Golia
Vinny Golia
Vinny Golia
b.1946
reeds
and the Cline brothers. Also, [pianist] Horace Tapscott
Horace Tapscott
Horace Tapscott
1934 - 1999
piano
was around during that earlier period.


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