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Bobby Bradford: Self-Determination in the Great Basin

By Published: October 28, 2009
AAJ: He was still playing music [drums] then, too.

BB: Sure, he had a band called Black Music Infinity, and sometimes I played with them—me, [bassist] Wilber Morris, Arthur Blythe
Arthur Blythe
Arthur Blythe
sax, alto
, David Murray
David Murray
David Murray
sax, tenor
and [flutist] James Newton
James Newton
James Newton
. David was a student at Pomona in 1975, and Newton was in the area because his father was in the military. He found the Pomona College campus accessible.

Bobby Bradford / John Carter John Carter and Bobby Bradford

AAJ: And you had the Extet that you were leading as well.

BB: Yeah, the name came up because I wanted to make sure each band I put together wouldn't be confused with some other group I had. A few weeks later I might be calling something the "Whet-Tet." At that point, the name didn't have much meaning—James Newton and I were both being interviewed on a radio show, and I don't think we used that same configuration of guys again, except maybe at the Little Bighorn on Sundays.

AAJ: That record [Midnight Pacific Airwaves, Entropy Records, 1977/2009] for me, when I got it, it seemed out of left field because that period of your work wasn't too well documented. As far as what you were able to do, had the climate changed in any way in LA so that you could perform more regularly?

BB: It had to a degree, but I must confess it was never good. I can't say any period was a golden period—when you have to open your own club just to play, the pickings are pretty slim. Some people were not willing to make the move—John and I did things around town, but it wasn't like people were going to call you. You had to orchestrate the whole event.

AAJ: As far as teaching goes, was that a viable enough thing?

BB: The beauty of that was that I had one class on each campus, and it gave me some income each month that left me to work at what I was doing, go out of town. For example, when I went to New York to record with Ornette in 1971 (Science Fiction and Broken Shadows, Columbia) that one class didn't restrict my time. I could get out of town for a week and manage to keep things together. That helped a lot—I don't know what I would have done without it.

AAJ: Was there a group of students that you played with, sort of like proteges?

BB: Not really; nobody except for David Murray and James Newton. The class at Pasadena City College was a Black Music survey course covering blues, gospel, and jazz. There weren't any students in that class that were serious about playing music. I didn't teach "how to play" at either place, except that Stanley's band was at Pomona and some of his band mates also took his classes. He was writing plays and playing drums, and one thing led to another but what they hired me to do was teach a History of Jazz class—textbooks, listening to records, but no playing.

AAJ: It'd be easy to go down the path of discussing Stanley Crouch, and how the music has been perceived as a result of his words, but at that time he was very clear-cut in his involvement with the New Music.

BB: He back-stepped after he got to New York. He got to a point where he stopped playing the drums because he was ill-equipped to do what was necessary on the instrument. Instead, he chose to focus on writing. He also didn't like the post-Albert Ayler

Albert Ayler
Albert Ayler
1936 - 1970
sax, tenor
and late Coltrane stuff, that high-energy thing, and instead he took a stand that there were only a few valid people in the New Music—me, Ornette, Dewey Redman, Don Cherry and [bassist] Charlie Haden
Charlie Haden
Charlie Haden
bass, acoustic
. He didn't think a lot of the other groups borne out of that. Some people say he did a complete about-face in New York, though I don't think that's true.

AAJ: Like anybody, his tastes shaped what he wrote about.

BB: Sure, and he was focused completely on writing.

Bobby BradfordAAJ: A record like Self-Determination Music is pretty dense, but there's a sense of space throughout your music, both on your own and with John Carter. Was that a conscious decision, to "open the music up" to a degree?

BB: The best I can answer that is that I never sat down and thought about a certain approach. How I write—and it was probably true for John as well—is determined by how I play. I'm not a person who wants to use a lot of noise effects in my music, though that doesn't mean I don't like to hear someone do it well. I still like to hear the trumpet played traditionally.

I like a lot of what Albert Ayler did and I love the late Coltrane music, Interstellar Space [Impulse, 1967] and things like that. People say it's coming from Ornette, too, but the only connection between the two is philosophical—playing music without chords. In fact, the big glaring thing was that Trane was willing to use drummers who didn't play time, whereas Ornette always had to have timekeeping in his music. That's huge. You're really out on a limb when you ask a drummer to play free, and you've got to be able to do something to back that up. John Carter and I both liked that a lot.

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