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Bobby Broom: Building a Legacy

R.J. DeLuke By

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Guitarist Bobby Broom had a feel for music at a very young age. He was exposed first to clarinet and violin as a child, but they didn't have an impact on him. Eventually, an old guitar came through the household. It had four strings across an instrument with a small neck.

"I didn't know it was a descendent of the banjo," Broom recalls. "I found out later it was a tenor guitar. I still have it. I didn't do anything with it. I was about 8. About four years after that I decided I wanted to play guitar. There was no clear reason why I made that decision. I just woke up one morning and decided that was it. I wanted a guitar. I was 12."

Now 51, Broom has been playing that instrument ever since, and rose at a remarkable level, playing with pianist Al Haig at the ripe age of 12 and with Sonny Rollins for the first time at 16, years before touring with the Saxophone Colossus. Broom's style—a rich, thick sound; expressive and swinging—is forged in the tradition of jazz and blues. He can bring those sensibilities to musical landscapes like Stevie Wonder tunes, the focus of his most recent recording with his Deep Blue Organ Trio, Wonderful! (Origin, 2011). Or he can blaze through standards. The 2009 recording from his longstanding guitar trio, Plays for Monk (Origin) is an important interpretation of those great compositions rendered soulfully and thoughtfully through an instrument Monk did not employ.

Broom has carved out a fine career and in the last decade has documented that with a string of exceptional recordings. By his own admission, "practice, apprenticeship, productivity, perseverance and faith" have led to a place in jazz that he can be proud of, even if he isn't a household name in the jazz world. The body of work is there. The contributions on the bandstand speak for themselves. Peers speak in glowing terms. Pat Metheny wrote on his own website in 2008 that "I have been a huge fan of Bobby since I first heard him with Sonny Rollins," calling his new recording at that time, The Way I Play, Origin, 2008), "one of the best guitar trio records ever."

"This validation, especially from those that I respect and from fans, is what keeps me going. It always has. To be sixteen years old, knowing that you're a fledgling, but you're being encouraged and having your efforts endorsed by great musicians was like a crazy dream," says Broom. "Those episodes are long gone, but I'm still making progress and getting validation and encouragement that I need to continue. I guess in a way I've always been in this position—somewhat of an underdog and a true jazz musician. I'm happy that I've made an impact on those who appreciate what I do."

Broom has more to say and the years ahead will bear that out. Some of that came from a curiosity he had as soon as he knew the guitar was his thing. He advanced rapidly. Even when his technical ability wasn't quite there yet his vision of what to look and strive for spearheaded things until that technique came around. The "feel," so important in improvisational music, was innate. He started hearing jazz as a teenager and took steps to investigate further. He inquired at a record store, and was handed George Benson's Bad Benson (CTI, 1974), an album that includes a version of "Take Five."

"My life changed in that moment," Broom says directly. "Everything seemed to make sense, what George played. I was 14 or something like that. I'd heard an awful lot of music. Somewhere in my brain I understood a lot, just innately. Not theoretically, technically or anything like that. Music made sense to me. Most of what George played, although I didn't know what it was, made sense to my ear. I knew it was tremendous. It sounded like he could do anything and everything as an improviser. I understood improvisation. I understood what he was playing, relative to the song, the harmony, the chords as they moved. All of it made sense. I had never heard anybody play an instrument, let alone the guitar, like that, with that kind of freedom and joy. And power and expressiveness. I thought, 'Man, if this is what you can do on the guitar, then this is what I want to pursue. I want to do this.'"

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