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Alan Broadbent Trio at the Deer Head Inn

Victor L. Schermer By

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Alan Broadbent Trio
Deer Head Inn
Delaware Water Gap, PA
August 11, 2018

Believe you me, it wasn't by choice that I hadn't been to the Dear Head Inn in a few years to take in some great jazz in its secluded setting on a wooded hill near the river at the edge of town in the Pocono Mountains. Despite its rural location, it has a musical history to rival New York's best venues. Circumstances hindered my getting there for a long time, but I seized a midsummer opportunity to go from Philadelphia to hear pianist Alan Broadbent in a Saturday evening slot accompanied by the ubiquitous and deeply artful Harvie S on bass and the masterful Billy Mintz on drums.

The Deer Head's tradition of jazz piano is unrivalled, beginning with the days when Keith Jarrett hung out and performed there, and the house pianist, the late John Coates, Jr. inspired Jarrett and everyone who heard him. Just ask Jarrett or Poconos resident David Liebman if you want a considered opinion about Coates. I was eager to hear what Broadbent and his cohorts could provide in that special setting.

I first heard New Zealand born Broadbent on the iconic recording of singer Irene Kral's 1977 sets at the Half Moon Bay club on the Monterey Peninsula (Irene Kral Live, Just Jazz, 2000) , in which Kral's delivery of "Here's That Rainy Day" is one of the most stunning renditions of a ballad ever captured for posterity. I was taken by the sensitivity and depth of Broadbent's piano accompaniment on that album, and his name often ran through my head as someone whose playing I wished I heard more. Somehow, I lost track of him, only to recently find that over time, he raced right past me to become one of the pantheon of great jazz pianists, with a multitude of recordings as a leader, a couple of Grammy's, and on top of that, composing, arranging, and conducting with stellar artists like Diana Krall, Paul McCartney, the NDR Big Band, Charlie Haden, Shirley Horn, and so many other instantly recognizable names. Who knew? Like a blind man learning that he could have his vision restored, I was eager to see and hear someone whose pianistic "voice" had become strangely familiar through one singular experience.

Watching Broadbent hanging out before the show, and later speaking with him briefly, I thought I understood why he escaped me for so long. His demeanor, in a comfortable suit, gentle speech, and diffident facial expression, was that of a modest but distinguished gentleman, not at all a hipster jazz musician. Seeing him reminded me of a story told by the poet W.H. Auden. At a point in his career when he was the talk of the New York literary scene, he was going somewhere in the subway, and overheard a man saying, "Wow! Is that the great poet, W.H. Auden?" Auden leaned over to him and said quietly, "Yes, dear, it is!" Broadbent carries himself and plays like someone who has set aside his ego for the sole purpose of making music. As he said among his other highly intelligent remarks to the audience, "The purpose of my performing is to communicate something that touches others emotionally, and sometimes it might become a work of art." He and his cohorts delivered on both in this show.

The two sets consisted of an assortment of standards, ballads punctuated by bebop and other up tempo tunes, and only at the end did Broadbent modestly include two of his originals. His playing was straight ahead, but he gave each song something different from the norm in the way of interpretation. He was endlessly inventive, and he incorporated diverse styles within a carefully guided structure. Harvie S's bass and Mintz's drums coordinated well with the pianist, but their solos were uniquely their own and at times magical in their effects.

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