Jakob Bro: Searching for Beauty Through Sound
Beauty is perhaps one of the most common words used in association with music, but it is also one of the vaguest terms in musical criticism, and it rarely says something substantial about the work that is described. And yet, despite its intangible character, it would be almost impossible to characterize Danish guitarist Jakob Bro's music as anything else than beautiful. In the aesthetic universe of Bro, beauty becomes synonymous with the process of artistic creation. It is the attempt to find a musical form that both is born within tradition and lies outside it. It is the will to find the space between composition and improvisation, the fleeting moment that is allowed to blossom and become something that exists both within and out of time.
While still relatively young, Bro (born in 1978) has come a long way on his journey into sound. He has played with the legendary drummer Paul Motian, trumpeters Tomasz Stanko and Tom Harrell, saxophonists Lee Konitz, Joe Lovano and Mark Turner and fellow guitarist Bill Frisell, just to name a few. However, it is characteristic of Bro that he collaborates with musicians that erase themselves in the music. The quality of having a distinctive musical voice while still being able to immerse himself in the music is something that Bro shares with the artists he has played with. To Bro, playing music is a voyage of constant discovery.
From the beginning, music was an important part of Bro's life: "I played trumpet at an early age. My father had a big band, and has always taught music. We had all kinds of instruments in the house. So there has always been a lot of music. I played the tambourine with my father's big band before I even learned to walk. The next step was to pick up the trumpet. I became a member of a youth orchestra and played there for a few years, and later it evolved into a position in the big band. I also played the trumpet in church, and it was a challenge playing in front of an audience because I was really shy, and this is something I have thought about recently. Playing music, you have to be on stage a lot and in a way, it is a strange situationbeing on a scene, but it is a situation I have learned to deal with."
Bro's transition from trumpet to guitar came about when he began listening to guitarist Jimi Hendrix in the sixth grade and started to explore rock music. There was a period when he played both trumpet and guitar, but gradually the guitar became his only instrument, and he started playing guitar in the big band as well as in a rock group. The change from trumpet to guitar marked an increased interest in music that culminated during his first year in high school, when he started to play fusion, and he listened to the records that his father brought home, among them albums by guitarists John Scofield and Pat Martino. There was a situation where Bro was driving home with his father and told him that he might as well break out of school and focus on music because this was what he wanted to do. His parentsespecially his motherweren't too fond of the idea and wanted him to get an education, but in a way this only made it clearer to the guitarist that this was a path that he had to pursue on his own.
Bro began studying in a jazz school in Aarhus and later attended the Royal Academy of Music when he was only 17: "The most important thing that happened to me in that period was when I lived in Aarhus and met drummer Rune Kielsgaard and bassist Eske Nørrelykke. I was part of the musical environment and listened to pianist Heine Hansen at the jazz venue Bent J. He was incredibly talented and played with the best. It was a world that fascinated me and a place where I felt that I could go if I wanted to play. I started to jam with Rune and Eske and played a lot of concerts with them."
The relationship with Rune Kielsgaard and Eske Nørrelykke developed through a rigorous regimen of practice and performances, and the more formal education at The Royal Academy of Music was set aside. Eventually, the three decided to leave Denmark in favor of Berklee College of Music. At this point, Bro had already been noticed by musicians like saxophonist Michael Brecker and Danish pianist Carsten Dahl, whom Bro idolized. He had also played with Danish saxophonist Jacob Dinesen, an experience that meant a lot. There was a concert at the restaurant Mefisto that was really special to Bro. Kurt Rosenwinkel, whom Dinesen knew from Berklee, was in town and played with the group, and later he told Bro that it was a wonderful experience and that he had to come to New York to play with him. Rosenwinkel even said that, hearing Bro, he had "somehow found a clue to how guitar and music should be played." This was an amazing boost to the young guitarist.