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Alan Broadbent: Intimate Reflections on a Passion for Jazz

Victor L. Schermer By

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AAJ: And that rhythmic bounce, as you call it, created an opening that allowed musicians to create all kinds of unbelievable improvised lines. In my opinion, something happened that was a breakthrough in musical history.

AB: Yes, and I think Lennie Tristano had the best insight of all, that jazz is not a style, it's a feeling! That idea encapsulates everything that I'm trying to say. Within that feeling there are many styles: Wynton Kelly, Bud Powell, Hank Jones, and Tommy Flanagan each have their own unique styles, but they all have the deep rhythmic feeling of jazz. Lennie felt it was a life force, innate in all of us. The things that last forever are the things that have passion and intensity to them. I have to work hard and practice every day, because that special feeling is something that dissipates if you don't use it. This special elasticity of time dissipates if it's not used.

AAJ: So I get your sense that it's this lived rhythm, what you call elasticity, that allows you to get into the feeling, and the feeling allows you to create all the magnificent variations that you do. It's like someone gives a great painter the right paintbrushes and canvas and a particular kind of paints or acrylics, and they can produce a masterpiece. The medium facilitates the art, the medium allows the message to happen. Once you get the rhythmic sense going, it frees you to invent creatively around the melodies, harmony, and so on.

AB: Exactly. Remember the metaphor I used before, of the rhythm being the wind in the sailboat. If you catch the wind, you can steer the sailboat in any direction you want to go. Without the wind, nothing happens. Or, if you like, the surfer who finds the sweet spot in a wave that will take him to shore.

Broadbent's Career Since the 1990s

AAJ: Earlier, in Part I, you took us up to somewhere in the 1990s, working with Natalie Cole and so on. Can you bring us up to date on your career, some of what you've been doing musically over the past couple of decades since then?

AB: Well, in truth, I'm mostly waiting for the phone to ring.

AAJ: You're too modest. I can't believe that you just sit around waiting for someone to offer you an occasional gig! I see you all over the web with indications that you're working on this project or that composition or this recording! I think of you as going non-stop, like you can't get off the train. You seem like the busiest man on the block.

AB: No, it doesn't work like that. What you're seeing on the web is a list over a long time period of time. But it actually amounts to only two or three major gigs a year. And all this time I've had to front the costs of my CDs. It isn't like people think it is. During my Natalie Cole period in the 1990s, for which I am very grateful, I was on tour all the time, and the record company paid for the full orchestras needed for my arrangements. But after that, I've tended to lay back and not pursue gigs. I'm not someone who goes after things. I did tour with Charlie Haden Quartet West between the 1990s and 2015 or so as well, but it was difficult traveling and not much money, although I learned a lot and very much enjoyed working with Charlie.

After that, I've done an occasional arrangement. I'm very fortunate that I know Diana Krall. When Diana was only nineteen, she called me. She was studying with Jimmy Rowles. She called me looking for a different take on things. So she studied with me for one summer in the 1980s. That was a lovely experience. I taught her what Lennie Tristano taught me, to sing along with Lester Young solos. Then I got to conduct on the road with her after her first album came out. Sometimes, when I'm conducting, she will quote Lester Young, look over at me and give me a wink.

What I regret is that I wasn't as well prepared for these gigs as I should have been. I just learned as I went along. When it I came to conduct for Natalie Cole and then for Diana, I learned by practicing conducting as I listened to the Mahler symphonies on recordings. I didn't study formally, I never could afford it. I got offered a conducting gig, so I said, I'd better learn to conduct! By the way, I wrote some of the string charts for Diana Krall's album Turn Up the Quiet (Verve, 2017) just prior to the one she just did with Tony Bennett.

AAJ: In a way, even though you've been working as a pianist all along, your career sounds more like that of a conductor and composer than a working jazz musician. You get offered conducting and arranging jobs, and take what comes, which often turns out to be great. Most of the musicians I know work their asses off to get gigs at clubs, work on their own compositions on the side, teach some students and maybe at a college. They're very actively in pursuit of work, and when things are going well, they have a lot of jobs they have to juggle. It's partly just to make enough money to survive and thrive, but also they love playing for an audience as much as they can.

AB: I don't put myself forth as a sideman; it's not my usual thing, although I love to comp for horn players. I've got my trio, and we play a fair amount of gigs, mostly for the "door." But I have certain needs and expectations now, and if that's not happening, I'm very unhappy, and that comes across to others, unfortunately. But with my trio, I can go to that special transcendental place, and that means everything to me. A few months ago, Harvie S, Billy Mintz and I did some home recordings at my place. We chose a few takes we liked and made them into an album. I'm pleased to say that High Note Records has offered us a two album contract, the first of which should be released around the time of this article's publication. It's my first partnership with a bona fide record company in years and I have Harvie to thank for this.

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