Delving Into the Deep Blue
Several years later, while playing in a band with trumpeter Tom Browne, Broom got to meet his jazz inspiration. "Tom's manager was George Benson's old manager, from many years prior, before George was even famous. They still had a connection; they owned a club up in Harlem. So that's when I really got to meet George formally. I played my guitar, and that was really cool."
While in high school, Broom got an offer to tour with saxophonist Sonny Rollins, which the guitarist turned down. "Yeah, I turned it down because I was in high school . And we are talking music, so there's no contract, not even short term security in the music field. You just operate on a huge amount of faith. My mother was a schoolteacher and there was just an understanding in the household that I obviously was going to go on to college. The fact that I wanted to go for music was enough of a stretch in and of itself. The question was whether or not I was going to go for music education, because I needed something to fall back on. Eventually I did wind up leaving school, dropping out, so to speak, to go on tour because I had the ability to make the choice at nineteen.
While the term "prodigy" has been mentioned alongside Broom's name, it is not a term that he feels comfortable claiming. "I might have heard the word used but I never felt that it was accurate for me. Because coming up as a young musician, I always saw myself as being low man on the totem pole, as far as the guys I hung around with. Guys like [bassist] Marcus Miller, [drummer] Poogie Bell, [bassist] Victor Bailey and [drummer] Omar Hakim, they were all close buddies and colleagues who I grew up playing with, coming of age with, and started my career with. All of these guys were among the top, young New York City jazz musicians at that time, in the early 1980s. These are guys that were true prodigies and really had it together in a big, big way by their late teens. They were already professional musicians and playing at a very high level. I felt that I was always just trying to hang with them and be able to hold my own with them. I thought that I had a true and genuine desire and I had certain skills, maybe more than the average person, but I don't think I was truly special in that way."
Broom went on to college at Berklee, but then realized that his friends in New York were having more success as musicians than he. "I was in school and buying records and seeing my friends, my childhood friends from back in New York, seeing their names appearing on records. I thought, 'Wait a minute. There's something wrong with this picture. I can go back home and go to school and maybe I can happen upon some of these opportunities.' So I did that and stayed in New York and went to Long Island University my second year of college. And the opportunities did in fact come my way."
So much so that legendary drummer Art Blakey made Broom an offer to join the Jazz Messengers. Broom came to know Blakey through the drummer's pianist, James Williams, who the guitarist met while at Berklee. Broom recalls, "There was a club where they played called Mikell's. It was only three blocks from my apartment and I could see it from my window. I looked at it and thought, 'Well, it looks like something is going on. Let me go and see what is happening.' Blakey looked at me and said, 'Where's your guitar?' And I said, 'About three blocks away.' He replied, 'You better go and get it.' I said, 'Are you serious?' He told me, 'Yeah.'
"So of course I went and got it! [Trumpeter] Wynton Marsalis had just gotten into town and he and I wound up sitting in. I wound up getting an offer and I was, as far as I know, the first guitarist in Art Blakey's band."
It was a time, and not the last, when Broom decided to follow his heart instead of the more popular choice. "It was a chance to play with the guys whose albums I had been coveting and all that. I wound up playing gigs with them and also playing gigs with trumpeter Tom Browne. Browne had gotten a record deal and he was hot. All my friends were in that band and it was kind of a no-brainer that I would play in Tom Browne's band as opposed to Art Blakey's. I wasn't thinking about any sort of historical impact or anythingI just wanted to make music with my friends."