Cindy Bradley: Ready to Bloom

Jeff Winbush By

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The audiences always embrace me. There's always an initial reaction of surprise at seeing a woman playing the trumpet, but they get over it and enjoy the show.
Cindy BradleyCindy Bradley first picked up the trumpet in the fourth grade and hasn't put it down since. She learned the importance of professionalism early on, playing at the age of 12 in a Buffalo area jazz band. Bradley would go on to earn a bachelor's degree in Jazz Studies from Ithaca College and a Master's degree in jazz trumpet performance from the New England Conservatory of Music, where she studied with, and was greatly influenced by, jazz greats such as John McNeil, Bob Brookmeyer, Jerry Bergonzi, George Russell and Steve Lacy.

Moving from the classroom to the jazz spots of New York City, Bradley paid her dues working in bands, sitting in on jam sessions, playing as a sideman and facing occasional bouts with sexism as she struggled to be taken seriously as a musician.

Her new album, Bloom (Trippin n Rhythm, 2009), is a smooth jazz showcase featuring Bradley alternating between trumpet and flugelhorn, ably assisted by a gifted group of supporting players including Tim Bowman and Marion Meadows, with production by Grammy award winner Michael Broening. She is putting together her own band as she prepares to hit the road opening for and playing with saxophonist Warren Hill.

All About Jazz: Congratulations on the new album Bloom, Cindy. How did this project come together and how did you find yourself working with producer Michael Broening?

Cindy Bradley: I had been in touch with Trippin n Rhythm records a few times on and off over the years, through a former manager of mine. I was looking for a record label that was willing to break in a new artist. As you can imagine, there's not many labels willing to take the risk of investing in someone that's not already established.

Trippin n Rhythm decided they saw something in me and decided to take the plunge and invest in this project. Jeff Lunt, who is the vice-president of Trippin n Rhythm and also handles A&R, agreed to oversee the project and got a dialogue going with Michael Broening. He put this incredible team together along with Michael, who is a Grammy winning producer (for his work with George Benson).

AAJ: This is actually your second album. What is the difference between your first album Just A Little Bit (self-produced, 2007) and Bloom?

CB: Wow. There's a ton of difference between the first album and this one. My first album was really a project I did by myself over a number of years. I used my friends and musicians that I played with and I wrote it while I was in college. It's a compilation of some of the work I did by myself. This project is with a great producer and label behind me.

I got to write with Michael and have some great musicians on the CD and the difference between the two albums speaks for itself. I am proud of the first album because I did it myself, but this one is the evolution of myself as an artist, which is why we called it Bloom.

AAJ: Was it at all intimidating for you to walk into the studio with a Grammy-winning producer and all these accomplished musicians who didn't know you or what you could do?

Cindy BradleyCB: Yes and no. I can't say it wasn't intimidating because of the resumes these guys have, but I spent a lot of time in the studio in the past and I'm pretty comfortable there. Michael is one of the nicest, most down-to-earth people I've ever worked with, so he took the intimidation right away. Once I worked with the guys, everything just flowed. There was a certain degree of intimidation, but also complete excitement to have this opportunity. There was more being anxious and excited than being intimidated and scared.

AAJ: Is there a particular song on Bloom that you particularly enjoy or that stands out for you?

CB: I do genuinely like all of them so it's hard to pick just one, but the album really shows a lot of different sides of my playing. There's the real sultry flugelhorn tracks which is my favorite stuff to play and there's the real funky tunes with the great grooves and energy. It's kind of the best of both worlds. "Uptown Drive" is my favorite funkier song and "Before I Go" is the most beautiful and passionate.

AAJ: Will you be touring to support the album?

CB: We're in the process of putting a band together on the West Coast to do some upcoming festivals and I'm going to be opening for Warren Hill in a few weeks as well as playing with his band.

AAJ: Is it hard putting a road band together?

CB: Not really. I know a lot of musicians here in New York that I love playing with. Plus through Michael Broening and guys playing on the album, everybody has so many connections with people that play this type of music and play it so well. I haven't run into too many guys I have problems playing with. The process is simpler than you would think.

AAJ: You've worked as a sideman for bands such as Pieces of A Dream and you play in New York with The Sly Geralds Band. How did you get started as a sideman?

CB: Through word of mouth and playing in different bands. The more people you meet, the more people tell others, "She's a great trumpet player and you should call her for this and that." You just start freelancing. I worked for companies that book out bands for tours and backing people up. I've also had bands I've put together with friends, playing original material.

When I first came to New York I went to a lot of jam sessions to meet as many players as possible. Your name starts getting around. The more you play and get up there and do it, the more people you meet and eventually you're nice and busy.

AAJ: Who were some of your influences?

CB: There were people like Bob Brookmeyer and Steve Lacy and George Russell, Jerry Bergonzi and John McNeil who were teachers at the New England Conservatory of Music, especially John McNeil. I studied with him the most.

By studying with all these different great musicians, that is what affected my sound the most. I didn't just study with the trumpet players. Studying with different types of horn players and rhythm section instruments really made me more balanced as far as the music I play and how I branch out when I'm being creative. It gave me a lot more tools to use musically.

AAJ: Is playing in an academic setting drastically different from playing live on stage?

CB: I would say they're completely different environments. One can't necessarily prepare you for the other. There are a lot of incredible players that never went to school. Most of the players I look up to never went to school. It's just different. If you do both it's going to help, but the pressures of playing live are much different from the classroom environment. The classroom is more nurturing and it helps you gain skills, while onstage is like going out in the work force and doing the real deal.

AAJ: Have you ever encountered sexism as a woman breaking into a male-dominated field?

Cindy BradleyCB: I've run into it a lot. When I first started going out, trying to network and go to jam sessions, I would walk into a jam session and they would not let me play. That was a really common thing. I would go up and try to sign up and ask if I could play and they would say, "Oh, sweetheart, sit down. The list is full."

It happened repeatedly to me. I used to go to jam sessions with male musician friends and they would be allowed to play, but not me.

They would look at me and presume I can't play or I would show up at a gig with a new band and they would turn my microphone down. They assumed I wasn't very good.

That's why it's important the more women there are out there doing this—playing well and being role models so people can see the stereotypes aren't true. I've definitely dealt with my share of sexism.

AAJ: Has it ever gone beyond insensitivity and boy's club hazing to outright and obvious sexism?

CB: I was called for a tour of Europe one time and I was pretty much ready to go. The musical director of the band heard I was a woman and said, "Oh, they can't play hard enough." He took me off the tour and he had never heard me play. That is blatantly sexist.

AAJ: No argument there.

CB: Fortunately, being a woman can work for you too because it is a unique quality and people embrace it more than they put it down.

AAJ: I hear a bit in your playing on Bloom that reminds me of Rick Braun and Chris Botti. Is that a fair comparison?

CB: I don't model my playing after Rick Braun or Chris Botti. I think I have my own sound. When I was learning to play and studying and practicing, I listened more to hard bop and straight-ahead trumpet players and musicians who played instruments other than trumpet.

I haven't modeled myself after Rick or Chris, though I think they're great.

AAJ: When you're playing in the smooth jazz genre, comparisons to those guys would seem more natural than to a straight-ahead trumpet player like Wynton Marsalis. Plus, Trippin n Rhythm is a record label that features smooth jazz artists.

CB: Oh definitely. There's not that many trumpet players in the smooth jazz genre, so for people hearing trumpet playing in this style, the immediate comparison would be to think Rick Braun or Chris Botti.

AAJ: It's a short list.

CB: Yeah, it is. That comparison is a nice one because I love the way both Rick and Chris play, but I think the tracks are really different if you give them a listen.

AAJ: How do audiences react to a woman playing the trumpet?

CB: The audiences always embrace me. There's always an initial reaction of surprise at seeing a woman playing the trumpet, but they get over it and enjoy the show.

AAJ: We have to get past the surprise over that type of thing.

CB: I think it's getting less and less with Jessy J. and Mindi Abair and other role models doing their thing. There's less of a shock factor to seeing a woman playing the horn, but I think there's an exciting quality to it as well.

Cindy BradleyAAJ: I understand that you teach classes and conduct workshops in music.

CB: Yes, I teach a lot. I teach kids all types of instruments and improvisation. Most of the work I do in New York and New Jersey is with elementary school-age kids. I really like working with them. The kids enjoy classes with me and they love learning about music. Getting them to practice isn't always that easy because they have a billion other things they're involved in, but they're there because they want to be. Music classes are definitely really special.

AAJ: So much of the music kids today hear is made without real instrumentation. Does teaching these kids give you hope for the next generation?

CB: It does, because the more you can expose them to live performance and an area of music which is different from what they're hearing on the radio, the more they are going to understand and appreciate that type of music as they grow up. It definitely gives me hope for the future.

That's the age where they can most be influenced. They may not understand how much work it's going to take, but I want them not to be afraid and to just play. I want them to develop an appreciation for improvising and doing things that aren't written down on paper.

AAJ: Any nerves as you get ready to go on the road with Warren Hill?

CB: I can't wait to get out there and do it. No nerves. Let me at 'em!

Selected Discography

Cindy Bradley, Bloom (Trippin n Rhythm, 2009)

Cordovan, Highway 10 Blues (Lunaticworks, 2006)
Sherie Maricle TNT, A Tommy Newsom Tribute (Lightyear, 2005)

Photo Credit
Courtesy of Cindy Bradley

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