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Alan Broadbent: Intimate Reflections on a Passion for Jazz

Victor L. Schermer By

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AAJ: Like you, Brubeck loved to write for larger ensembles. When he took breaks from being on the road, he composed some really remarkable music, like a chorale for a piano jazz quartet, solo vocalists, and two choruses using the poetry of Langston Hughes. It is called Hold Fast to Dreams.

AB: I wanted the music for my Brubeck project to be harmonically true to the originals, which in themselves are astonishingly still new and fresh to me.

AAJ: So for the recording, did you improvise on the piano as well as write the orchestrations?

AB: Yes. And I'm very proud of the project because I think there's nothing quite like it in jazz. I admire Andre Previn's beautiful albums like A Touch of Elegance: The Music of Duke Ellington (Columbia, 1961) with his trio -Red Mitchell on bass and Frank Kapp on drums -and a string orchestra he was using on his movie recording dates. I learned a lot from them. But they are not that harmonically interesting to me. Andre plays a bit like Oscar Peterson, wonderfully so, but it's all a bit superficial.

I feel like in my Dave Brubeck project I've taken that approach to another, deeper level. And I've always wanted to give Dave a tribute like this. I would read the transcription when I was fourteen of "In Your Own Sweet Way." It had incredible voicings, different from Miles Davis and the others who were also creating new approaches. The actual recording wasn't available to me in New Zealand. Years later, in midlife, in my fifties, I found the an old scratched up vinyl of it in an old a record bin in L.A. Then I was surprised to hear that the chords and passages which I would linger over, Dave just kinda threw away. I would linger over the chords of this particular version of "Your Own Sweet Way." The way they moved from chord to chord was precious to me. So I tried to capture that seriousness I had even as a boy to the seriousness I have now about the art of music. For similar reasons, I also love Brubeck's "Strange Meadowlark" (Time Out, Columbia, 1959) which I was able to realize through the great beauty of my project's violinist/concertmaster David Juritz's virtuosity and which became my own vision of a meadowlark. But my version of Broadbent Plays Brubeck won't be released until 2020 to coincide with Dave's centennial. I wish it would come out sooner.

AAJ: Brubeck studied composition with the French composer Darius Milhaud, who he often noted had a big influence on him.

AB: Brubeck had a vision, and Paul Desmond helped him achieve that vision. When I first heard them as a kid in New Zealand doing "Tangerine," it was Paul's playing that I was most interested in. It was Desmond's beautiful long lines and his singing quality. But it was Dave's harmonic inventions and his compositions that had the most lasting impact on me. And, as Paul Desmond said, "If you want to really know Dave, listen to the way he comps."

Personal Life

AAJ: How do you spend your time when you're not doing music?

AB: I have a big poodle, and I have a small cockapoo tiny little poodle, and I hang out with them. I love to go over to the South Mountain Reservation -I might go there this afternoon if it stops raining and do a two hour hike. As a young boy in New Zealand, my escape was to go to what we called "The Bush," a place that was full of native plants and other wonderful things, and where I found my way to a beautiful isolated beach. It brought a certain amount of peace to me, an escape from "the great noise of unreflective contemporary life."

When I can afford it, I like to go with my wife to Alison to experience a nice gourmet restaurant. And I have an eighteen year old son who, besides being a budding guitarist and electronic music composer, is a six feet tall body builder. He obviously didn't get that from me! He'll be starting up at Essex County College next week. He has a car and a girlfriend, so, sadly I hardly see him any more. My wife and son are the most important people in my life. And if it weren't for Alison, I'd probably be a derelict living under the Brooklyn Bridge or somewhere! She's given me so much in so many ways.

AAJ: Does she like jazz?

AB: Not so much. A little bit. She likes Paul McCartney, the The Rolling Stones, the music she grew up with. And she likes to dance, which is lovely to see. But I never could dance, so I don't get that much enjoyment out of most pop music to be able to share her enjoyment. And when you dance, you can't concentrate on the music.

AAJ: When and how did you meet her?

AB: We like to say that she picked me up at the Vine Street Bar and Grill in L.A. when I was playing there one night. She sat at the bar with her girlfriend, and we struck up a conversation. I happened to mention my man, Mahler, and she really dug him, loved his work. That really hooked me. And, of course, that was it.

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