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Alan Broadbent: Intimate Reflections on a Passion for Jazz

Victor L. Schermer By

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AAJ: You haven't mentioned any horn players so far other than Desmond. When did they take on importance for you?

AB: I did play with a couple of horn players in New Zealand, but more importantly, I was listening to recordings. I guess it was Charlie Parker, of course, who I'd listen to over and over. And then I found Lee Konitz, loving the way Lee phrases, and his beautiful sense of time, even deeper than Paul Desmond, and that feeling of unpredictability. I could tell that Lee was hearing things for the first time every time he played. I aspire to that too. It's a very dangerous way to play because you don't have anything to fall back on. Every day is a new day for me. Right now, I'm waiting for my bassist friend, Don Falzone to come over. I don't know what's going to happen when we start playing! But that's what you have to be vulnerable to in order to express this feeling. The great thing that players like Louis Armstrong gave us is this spontaneous outpouring of beautiful music. So I'm this kid ten thousand miles away from the jazz scene suddenly feeling this music. That's how it all started, and I've been ruined for life! [Laughter.] And along side with that, I was developing my love for the orchestra.

AAJ: Parenthetically, I wanted to ask whether you were exposed to any Maori music in New Zealand.

AB: Very little. I listened to some Polynesian, and Maori music on the radio, but most of it has westernized harmonies and I don't feel any connection to it. It belongs to their own cultures. I grew up in a very white Christian Protestant environment. I had a couple of Maori friends, but I later lost contact with them. The 1950s in New Zealand was quite backward, still a lot like it was in the late 1800s. Even Mark Twain would back me up on that. When he visited New Zealand in the late 1800s, it was even further back in time. When I was growing up there, there was no free trade. TV was in its infancy even in the 1960s there. There were no new cars -you had to buy a used car, the technology was backward, and it was a very prudish society. Playboy magazine was banned. The wonderful British actress Diana Dors came to New Zealand and was railed upon because of her supposed promiscuity. I remember an uproar over a visit by the great Eartha Kitt, for God's sake. It was a very closed society, except for a few "insurgents" whom I was lucky to meet.

Berklee and Lennie Tristano: The Weekly Commute

AAJ: By contrast with what you grew up with, the jazz world is very earthy and very multicultural. How did you come to make that huge leap half way around the world to Berklee and a whole new life?

AB: The jazz I know is an art form. And that's what I as a boy of age fourteen got interested in. Pursuing that art form was what got me to the famous Berklee College of Music in the 1960s. When I was eighteen, I received the Downbeat scholarship to go to Berklee in Boston. There, I was able to really develop my skills more seriously. For one thing, Boston unlike Auckland, had a lively jazz and classical music scene. Right away, I got a student ticket to go to the Boston Symphony concerts. I heard Ravel and Stravinsky for the first time live. I saw Leonard Bernstein conduct, and sat very close to the podium. I remember standing up excitedly after Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe's section called "The Sunrise" and everybody looked at me like I was strange because it just wasn't the proper time to do that! And besides all that, within half a mile from Berklee, down Boylston Street, was the Jazz Workshop nightclub. Within my first few weeks in Boston I saw they had Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Cannonball Adderley. And Lee Konitz!

AAJ: At the school itself, with whom did you study?

AB: My arranging teacher was Herb Pomeroy.

AAJ: Many of the best composers/arrangers, like Bob Brookmeyer and Maria Schneider were mentored and inspired by Pomeroy.

AB: I also studied with Ray Santisi, but that was interrupted by the fact that I was going to New York every Monday to study with Lennie Tristano.

AAJ: You studied with Lennie already while you were still a student at Berklee?

AB: At my first summer break, I made contact with Lennie through a friend. I called him, and at first he turned me down, but my friend said, "Keep at it. Call him again." After a couple of calls, he agreed to teach me. So every week I'd take a plane from Boston to LaGuardia Airport and study with Lennie. It was in 1967-68, and he was living not far from the airport at the time in Flushing, Queens.

AAJ: Did you take formal lessons, or was it more like mentoring?

AB: It was a personal connection. I was sort of a lonely kid, and he was a father figure to me. Musically, I could swing. My technique was somewhat lacking, as it still is, but Lennie refined my ability to play what I hear. For example, he would have me transcribe Lester Young solos, not by writing them down, but by being able to sing it back from memory. They were solos from LP re-issues of Count Basie's 1938 records, tunes like "Lester Leaps In," "Taxi War Dance," and "Lady Be Good." The way Lennie instructed, I would put the LP on at half speed, listen to a phrase, and try to sing it back. And when I learned the whole solo, I'd go and sing it for Lennie. And then, when he felt I was ready, I'd go to the piano, put on the metronome, and play it as if I was improvising it myself.

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