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Bobby Broom

Guitarist Bobby Broom has always embraced the rhythm and blues core of jazz music.

About Me

Guitarist Bobby Broom’s love of jazz has never blocked out his affection for the pop music he grew up with. It’s been a frequent wellspring throughout his career. “It’s a lot of what I do,” he acknowledges. “Material is material, and I’m just trying to do things that are interesting to me and that I feel might be interesting to people.”

Soul Fingers, his joyful new release with his new organ trio The Organi-Sation (produced by legendary drummer Steve Jordan), presents a whole album’s worth of such interesting things. Drawn from Broom’s favorite songs of his childhood in the 1960s and ’70s, the albums run the gamut from The Beatles and Procul Harum to Bobbie Gentry and Motown. It’s a path that has won Broom an impressive following and significant acclaim both within and outside his home base of Chicago. Chicago Tribune critic Howard Reich hails the guitarist as “offer[ing] an object lesson in what an inventive jazz musician can do with a familiar song.”

Indeed, Soul Fingers is not Broom’s first album-length assay of the music of his youth. 2001’s Stand! took on pop hits of the 1960s. The new record leans toward the ’70s—with renewed perspective. “The difference between Stand! and Soul Fingers is, frankly, nearly twenty years of life,” Broom says. “Hopefully that means that much more depth for me as an artist. I would hope that all of my experiences play a part in my ability to bring my new music to the table and present it to the public in a way that’s even more convincing, heartfelt, and nuanced.”

Bobby Broom was born January 18, 1961 in New York City. When he was ten years old, his father came home with a stack of records that included one by organist Charles Earland. Bobby was enamored with the album, listening to it every day. “This was before I knew what jazz was and I didn’t care,” he recalls. “I just liked the record.” It wasn’t until he heard the likes of Herbie Hancock and Grover Washington, Jr., on the radio—they were funky, but the deejays called them “jazz”—that he surrendered himself to the art.

By 16, Broom had a regular gig with bebop pianist Al Haig when the saxophone colossus himself, Sonny Rollins, invited him to go on tour. Broom declined, though he did perform with Rollins at Carnegie Hall later that year. Five years later (including one at Berklee), Broom at last joined Rollins’s touring band, ultimately spending two five-year stints with him. Prior to joining Rollins, Broom declined yet another prestigious gig—a spot in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers—to instead sign with GRP Records and make his crossover jazz debut, 1981’s Clean Sweep. That record and its follow-up, 1984’s Livin’ for the Beat (Arista), attracted a following and promised a career in what would soon be known as smooth jazz. But Broom, ever independent- minded, instead jumped ship for Chicago, where he concentrated on straight-ahead jazz. He continued with Rollins, joined Kenny Burrell’s Jazz Guitar Band, and worked with Miles Davis, Stanley Turrentine, and his early idol Charles Earland.

In the 1990s Broom formed two trios: the eponymous Bobby Broom Trio and the Deep Blue Organ Trio. Deep Blue recorded four albums before its dissolution in 2013. Broom also made three quartet records (No Hype Blues, Waitin’ and Waitin’, and Modern Man) before deciding to focus on his guitar-bass-drums trio as his primary outlet, beginning in 2001 with Stand! (Premonition). He solidified a lineup with bassist Dennis Carroll and drummer Kobie Watkins with 2006’s Song and Dance, which was also Broom’s first recording for Origin. That trio also scored with the vibrant 2008 live date The Way I Play and the 2009 Bobby Broom Plays for Monk, which Allmusic’s Rick Anderson called “a warm and wonderful tribute to one of America’s finest composers.” Makaya McCraven was introduced on drums for Upper West Side Story (2012), Broom’s first collection of all original compositions, and My Shining Hour (2014), his first standards album.

The Bobby Broom Organi-Sation was born from the ashes of the Deep Blue Organ Trio, which had been a regular touring opener for Steely Dan. Unaware of their 2013 disbanding, the Dan once again called Broom in 2014 to book his “organ group” for their summer tour. Broom was reluctant to throw together another organ combo when he wanted to focus on his working trio, but McCraven wouldn’t hear of it. “He said, ‘Man, you can’t not do this,’” Broom recalls. “He said, ‘Let’s sit down, go through our rolodexes, and figure this out.’”

When they reached the name of organist Ben Paterson, Broom thought he might be on to something; since Paterson was about to begin an extended stay in Chicago, he agreed to join the band. McCraven took a leave midway through the tour, with Watkins replacing him. The Organi-Sation quickly jelled as such: “I thought after the Deep Blue Organ Trio that I would never feel anything quite like that chemistry again,” Broom says. “And boy, was I wrong.”

If Broom's latest recording, Soul Fingers, was the product of that chemistry, it’s also a natural outgrowth of Broom’s personal artistic values. “The interpretation of popular songs doesn’t seem to be the mode du jour for jazz players, but I have to play music and a style that suits me, one that I want to hear,” he says. “This record—these songs, this presentation—is how I want to engage with the world.” •

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