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Alan Broadbent: Intimate Reflections on a Passion for Jazz

Victor L. Schermer By

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AAJ: So you're really concentrating on your trio and not taking gigs as a sideman just to get work.

AB: Right. I teach one or two days a week at NYU. And I'm always playing the piano at home. The best gigs come looking for me rather than the other way around. Like it was out of the blue that I did the whole note string arrangements of for the Paul McCartney album, Kisses on the Bottom (Starbucks Hear Music, 2012). Tommy Lipuma was producer and Diana Krall was pianist and co-producer. And it was through them that I got to write the arrangements for McCartney. They gave me what they had, the completed vocal and rhythm tracks and my job was to enhance them with a string orchestra.

AAJ: So you get some great gigs that come up out of the blue, but it's not like your phone is ringing all the time.

AB: Yes, it's different for me because I love to write music. I can enjoy the orchestration aspect of it, and finding the technique needed to get the sounds I'm hearing. I can't do that as a working pianist. My piano is reserved for that jazz feeling. When I play jazz it's a completely spontaneous thing connected to the feeling of the moment, and my trio is strictly for that purpose. There's a wonderful guy named Steve Tyrell who is a fine producer and singer. Every once in a while, he'll get a gig and ask me to write for it. My most recent Grammy nomination was from a recording he produced with Kristin Chenoweth. Steve wanted her to sing standards to get her away from the Broadway belting thing. So we did the album, The Art of Elegance (Concord, 2016). One of my favorite own arrangements is "Skylark" on that album. It's on YouTube, if you want to listen to it. But the song for which I received a Grammy nomination was "I'm a Fool to Want You." And Kristen just sings the shit out of it. And now we have a new one coming out, so that's great.

The Developing Story CD

AAJ: Browsing the web, I was really taken by seeing blurbs about your most recent album, Developing Story (Eden River/Universal, 2017), which I've since listened to and greatly appreciated. There you combine orchestral conducting and arranging with exceptional piano work. You could call it your magnum opus, because it's your conception in all respects. And it's exciting to know that it was recorded at the famous London studio, Abbey Road. Could you share with us how the album came about, and what the whole process was like for you?

AB: As I said earlier, I think of songs as notes, not words. I often think of the notes, not as the story- line of a movie or something, but how the notes that go with a particular orchestration relate to each other. I'm trying to create the "noble phrase." For me, that's where the depth of feeling in a song comes from. There were orchestrations I wrote, things I heard and wrote down thirty-five or forty years ago, but didn't have the technique to really develop them. So I just put them away in my files. Then, four or five years ago, I got a call from the producer Ralf Kemper. When he was young, he had heard an album I did many years ago: Woody Herman and the Thundering Herd with the Houston Symphony Orchestra: Children of Lima (Fantasy, 1975) So I get this call from Ralf. He says to me "Hey, I always loved the stuff you did with Woody. Do you have any more?" He was living in Dusseldorf at the time and had made his reputation as a writer/producer of jingles in Germany. So I said, "I have a whole closet full of old arrangements waiting to be heard that I haven't used." Then he asked me, "How big an orchestra do you need?" "About sixty or so musicians." "OK. Let's do it, and we can record it at Abbey Road." And I could hardly believe it. But we did it. And what a great orchestra! The London Metropolitan Symphony. It was a fantastic experience. That recording was Developing Story (Eden River Records, 2017).

For me, orchestrations like I did in Developing Story go back to Mahler. When he feels something, it comes out in notes. What I also learned from Mahler, in my own humble way, was how to express myself with an orchestra. That's the magic that some musicians have. In music, our experiences are evoked as feelings. That's what Developing Story is about, and it is held together by a few ideas that recur within and among the movements. The woodwind and string interludes, between the second and third movements, generate the whole piece. It becomes, subliminally for the intelligent listener, an emotional experience.

AAJ: It comes across in the recording. Also, I remember how, when I heard you at the Deer Head Inn, everyone there was entranced by those feelings as you and the trio played.

Broadbent's Latest Project: Reworking Brubeck Plays Brubeck

AB: Now, I have a new project I've completed with Ralf Kemper. It's a solo album called Brubeck Plays Brubeck (Columbia, 1956), utilizing his brother Howard's transcriptions. I've always wanted to do a tribute to Brubeck, because those books are where I got all my jazz harmonies from as well as my feeling for jazz compositions. So I told Ralf I'd really like to do that with my trio and a big string orchestra. Ralf got all excited, and he said, "Oh, yeah, let's go, let's go! Let's do it!"

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New York Notes

New York Notes

Savant Records
2019

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Developing Story

Developing Story

Eden River Records
2017

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Songbook

Songbook

Roomspin Records
2017

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America The Beautiful

America The Beautiful

Jan Matthies Records
2014

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Just One of those Things

Just One of those...

Edition Longplay
2014

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Heart To Heart

Heart To Heart

Chilly Bin Records
2013

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Upcoming Shows

Date Detail Price
Jun21Fri
Alan Broadbent and Harvie S
The Sequoia Room
Fort Bragg, CA
$25.00
Jun22Sat
Alan Broadbent and Harvie S
The Sequoia Room
Fort Bragg, CA
$25.00

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