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Bobby Bradford: Self-Determination in the Great Basin

By Published: October 28, 2009
AAJ: I was going to ask about him—you both recorded for Flying Dutchman, and I was sure you'd had a fair amount of contact.

BB: I knew him; actually, I knew him before I was in the military and at that point he was still playing trombone. By the '60s, he'd started to do writing for large ensembles, and it wasn't really that close to what we were doing—it was more modal. Some wonderful players came through that band he had.

Bobby BradfordAAJ: Recording must have brought notoriety to the band—were there calls coming from out of town?

BB: Our first record was in 1969 on Revelation. We didn't get calls from New York because of that record—we got good reviews, but we were still "West Coast guys." It managed to get around to some of the European magazines. Bob Thiele heard it, and came to LA in 1970 looking for what was on offer. We went and auditioned for him, as did [saxophonist] Arthur Blythe and Horace Tapscott. He gave us a record date, and that became Flight for Four on Flying Dutchman. Then right after that we made another record for Revelation called Secrets, and after that was Self-Determination Music for Flying Dutchman again in 1971.

We got some press, but we didn't get any invitations to go anywhere and play. Thiele sat us down and said "well, guys, I hate to tell you this, but if you want to move from where you are in this little scene, you're going to have to go to New York or your careers will just sit." John and I talked about it and opted to stay in LA—we had families that we didn't want to move, and we weren't going to pack up and leave them either.

So we played more around LA than we had before, but in the summer of 1971 I went to England on holiday. I took my horn and had a couple of names around London to look up, like the writer Richard Williams. He gave me the number of [drummer] John Stevens

John Stevens
, and we made a record that summer with [saxophonist] Trevor Watts
Trevor Watts
Trevor Watts
, [vocalist-guitarist] Julie Tippetts, Yaron Herman
Yaron Herman
Yaron Herman

on bass, and an American trombonist, Bob Norden [Bobby Bradford with John Stevens and the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, Nessa]. I came back after the holiday and shared that information with John, how exciting and fruitful it could be in Europe, and we talked about getting booked over there but at the same time, it didn't result in hopping on the next plane, either.

Then I went back over in 1973, met up with John Stevens and Trevor Watts and [bassist] Kent Carter

Kent Carter
Kent Carter
. I decided that I would stay over about ten months. We gigged around London and took the ferry over to Holland, got a van and drove around France and Belgium. We played a lot even though there wasn't any money; that record I made on tour, Love's Dream, was made after two weeks in Paris at Le Chat qui Peche. The owner of the Emanem label, Martin Davidson, traveled with us in the van and recorded that stint, and we picked the best performances to release.

AAJ: The reception sounds like it was pretty good over there—Le Chat was a noted performance space at the time. Were audiences receptive?

BB: Oh yes, we played the BIM Huis in Amsterdam and people were stomping and cheering—they loved it.

AAJ: You hadn't had anything like that in LA, I assume.

BB: Oh no, nothing like that. In Europe, we played places that seated two or three hundred people, as well as pub gigs. Later on, I went to Portugal and Italy with other groups—anyway, I loved it but there was no money and I had to support myself as well as family back home, so I came back. During the time I was gone, John had put down the saxophones and flute to focus on the clarinet exclusively. He made a recording, Echoes from Rudolph's (Ibedon, 1977) in a band with his son Stanley on bass and William Jeffrey on drums.

AAJ: Rudolph's was his space, right?

BB: It was a dentist's studio and for whatever reason, the dentist couldn't decide what to do with the place. He didn't want it empty, and a bassoonist named Rudolph had somehow turned it into his living space. Rudolph decided to have Sunday afternoon concerts, and I don't know how he and John met, but they went on for a long time with these concerts.

Bobby BradfordAAJ: Were you playing much with him when you came back, or not as much?

BB: Oh yes, sure, whenever we could get together and play, we did. But I lived in Pasadena, which was on the opposite end of the city. I had a little loft that I called the Little Bighorn, and sometimes John would come over there and play. We were doing what we could to keep things happening, with gigs at UCLA, Pasadena City College, Cal-State and other places in the Los Angeles Basin.

AAJ: You were also teaching again at that point.

BB: I started teaching about the same time John and I got together, actually—teaching sixth grade elementary school in 1967-1968. I was in La Puente, California, in the Basin. I started to teach music in the Pasadena City College in 1974-1975, and also at Pomona City College during that time, just one class each. Stanley Crouch orchestrated my teaching work at Pomona, because he was on faculty in the Black Studies department there.

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