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Los Angeles Jazz Institute Festival - Woodchopper's Ball: Part 3-4

Simon Pilbrow By

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Pianist Alan Broadbent, originally from New Zealand, came to the USA on a Berklee scholarship, studied with Lennie Tristano, and joined Woody in the summer of 1969. He described that he had attempted to write arrangements of tunes of more popular appeal. (It would have been interesting if time had permitted, for Alan to speak about his epic, brilliant arrangement of "Blues In The Night," and his brilliant orchestral composing for the Herman Children Of Lima recording)

Various stories and anecdotes of their times with Woody were described, including the many dance gigs that the band continued to play into the 1970s and beyond, an economic necessity to keep on the road, but not uniformly musically happy occasions. This included discussion of Woody's strategies for dealing with hecklers and the ignorant—his terse words, usually ending in "Pal," which, for Woody, was not a term of endearment. As the years went by, Woody fraternized less frequently with the band, but he remained a major nurturer of young jazz talent, but his exacting standard remained high. It was mentioned that Woody and his wife lived in the house that Humphrey Bogart originally built for Lauren Bacall.

Concert 9: Alan Broadbent (solo piano)

New Zealand born Alan Broadbent has had a distinguished and highly productive career in jazz, as a pianist, spending three years on the road with Woody Herman in his twenties, and, in the decades since, particularly in the piano trio setting, with many, critically-acclaimed trio recordings and Grammy nominations -and as a member of the highly regarded Quartet West with the late Charlie Haden. He has had a distinguished career also as an arranger, establishing his credentials early with Woody Herman, including his outstanding arrangement of "Blues In The Night," and his brilliant orchestrations on the 1973 Woody Herman Children Of Lima recording. His parallel career as orchestral composer/ arranger/ conductor includes collaborations with Natalie Cole, Diana Krall and many others.

Broadbent is a very resourceful pianist with a comprehensive technique: he plays ballads with great sensitivity and swings hard at faster tempos, and is known for his left-right hand independence. On this occasion, Broadbent had been invited to perform as a solo pianist, an intimate and introspective setting, in which he chose to express more of his romantic and reflective side and have a chance to stretch out, without the usual boundaries of trio format.

"Hello, My Lovely," by Charlie Haden began with a pensive, rhapsodic introduction, including a rubato statement of the melody, and then an in-tempo solo exploration of this "Parker Blues"-like structure with nice bluesy inflections. Jerome Kern's "All The Things You Are" began with a meandering chorus, in which he teased with fragments of the melody. He went into tempo for a boppy rendition, soloing against left hand bass lines, using the standard Gillespie vamping at beginning and end. "Body And Soul" began with a probing intro, with many right hand flurries of notes and chunky bass register chords. Broadbent continued with a left hand improvised solo with right hand accompaniment followed by a role reversal, and the right hand taking the solo, never straying too far from the melody, throwing out 'anchors' every so often. He returned to the melody with more right hand flurries and ended quietly, ending a thoughtful exploration of Green's beloved tune.

"Lullaby Of The Leaves," by Bernice Petkere, began in tempo, with the melody stated in contrapuntal interplay between left and right hands, with an off-beat swing bridge, and right hand bebop soloing over walking left hand bass lines. "With The Wind And The Rain In Her Hair" started with a moody, chordal introduction with strong left hand runs, although this did seem to bury the melody somewhat. He went into tempo for a restatement of the melody over a jagged bass accompaniment, and his solo continued to reference the melody, with some dazzling double-timing in both hands.

Broadbent went on to play a medley of two Dizzy Gillespie tunes, beginning with the early bebop ballad, "I Waited For You," playing the melody rubato, with romantic flourishes. His solo continued rubato, with echoing of the motifs from the melody throughout and left hand arpeggiation and runs beneath the right hand lines, slowly reducing intensity to then merge with "A Night In Tunisia." This was played at tempo with a conventional bebop right hand solo, initially over a static left hand figure, moving into contrapuntal interplay on the bridge. He played what amounted to a 'shout' chorus before returning to the melody.

The 1930s Count Basie classic, "Lester Leaps In," was performed in tempo throughout, however Broadbent incorporated some wild right hand triplet flourishes and some deliberately wayward left hand lines, which altered the harmonic framework of the piece, perhaps too much—before he returned to a minimalist restatement of the melody. "Reflections in D" by Duke Ellington must surely be one of the Duke's most beautiful ballads, and Broadbent handled all the 'sweet spot' harmonies with great care. On the 'out-chorus' he moved the melody to the left hand with sustained bass notes and more right hand flourishes, which gave it a sweeping, emotionally powerful ending.

John Lewis' "Django" began with a dramatic, Beethovian start, before slotting into a lazy, mid-tempo swing feel, with the right hand dancing over the static left hand notes, then into a walk before breaking into quirky, independent left and right hand interplay. In Lewis' bluesy interlude sections, Broadbent played bluesy right hand figures over strong boogie bass ostinatos, before he continued into the next chorus with bluesy right hand lines over dark lower register chords. The next interlude featured heavy right hand tremolos over his boogie bass ostinatos, before a dramatic Lisztian ending with grand, two-fisted chords, and fading into a rhapsodic coda. This led to rapturous applause, and Broadbent obliged with an encore, choosing David Raksin's "The Bad And The Beautiful." After a lovely rubato intro, the melody rang strongly in his strong right hand chords over left hand arpeggiation, and more extravagant right hand runs, weaving in and out of the melody, and creating more luxuriant piano sounds.

Did it swing? Was it all jazz? Was there any connection to Woody Herman? Does it matter in the end? There was much debate afterward. There is no doubt that Broadbent paints with a broad brush, and that he has extraordinary command of the piano, and has a solid reputation as a swinging trio pianist. However, alone at the piano on this occasion, he used the freedom to express other facets of his musical personality.
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