Saturday, December 30, 2017

An Interview with Alan Broadbent by Gordon Jack

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

As many of you know, Gordon Jack is a frequent contributor to the Jazz Journal and a very generous friend to these pages in his allowance of JazzProfiles re-publishings of his excellent writings. He is the author of Fifties Jazz Talk An Oral Retrospective and he developed the Gerry Mulligan discography in Raymond Horricks’ book Gerry Mulligan’s Ark.

The following article was first published in Jazz Journal November 2013.

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© -  Gordon Jack/JazzJournal; copyright protected, all rights reserved., used with permission.

“Two time Grammy Award winner Alan Broadbent is a sophisticated interpreter of the Great American Songbook. The Los Angeles Times has called him, ‘One of the greatest living jazz pianists’ and if his Live At Giannelli Square (Volume 1) had been reviewed in Jazz Journal I would have voted for it as one of the CDs of the year. His imaginative approach to Solar from the album received a Grammy nomination for Best Improvised Solo and among other gems there is a dramatic re-examination of Embraceable You which he calls You and You Alone

We met in April 2012 after his performance at that fine venue the Watermill Jazz Club in Dorking, Surrey which included an informative question and answer session with a large and appreciative audience.

“I studied classical piano at the Royal Trinity College of Music in Auckland, New Zealand and the first jazz concert I attended was in 1961 when I was fourteen. Dave Brubeck’s quartet was in town and I remember being really impressed with Paul Desmond on Tangerine. Of course I bought Time Out and I also went to see the film All Night Long because Dave was in it. He played It’s A Raggy Waltz and in one of the scenes he wore a trench-coat, so I went out and bought one too and wore it to all my gigs. I started to explore some serious stuff- not that Dave isn’t serious – but I discovered Bud Powell, Wynton Kelly, Red Garland, Bird and all the horn players. Then I heard Lennie’s solo album (The New Tristano) which just blew me away – I loved that music and really studied it which is why I wanted to have lessons with him a few years later.

“I sent an acetate of my recording of Speak Low to Downbeat magazine which is how I won a scholarship to Berklee School of Music for one semester in 1966. I was there until 1969 paying my way after that first semester by working six nights a week in a local club. Charlie Mariano was at the school and he was one of my favourite teachers - he was a great guy. At the time he was into that raga thing and he would sit on the carpet playing his soprano in a small group we had together. Other faculty members were Herb Pomeroy and Ray Santisi.” (A good example of Pomeroy and Santisi’s work as performers can be found on Serge Chaloff’s Boston Blow-Up which also features Boots Mussulli – GJ.)

“The local club in Boston was the Jazz Workshop and being students we could get in for a couple of dollars. I heard all kinds of people there like Bill Evans and Miles and one night Lenny Popkin, a young tenor player sat in with Lee Konitz. I approached Lenny and asked him if I could study with him because Lee had introduced him as a Tristano student. We hit it off and started playing together and it came to a point where he said I should call Tristano. He didn’t seem particularly interested because I was not available for lessons on the days that were convenient to him. Lenny Popkin then contacted Tristano on my behalf and arranged for me to have an audition on a Monday at his home in Flushing, Long Island. He had a little grand piano in his kitchen and he walked around while I played. He was a lovely man and he became a father-figure to me but I was never one of the Tristano-ites – I was more interested in finding my own way.
“I was 19 when I started with him, fresh off the boat and I used to talk to him about the difficulties I was having and he was very sympathetic to me. Some of his students would come up to Boston to see me at my hotel gig which was around the corner from the Jazz Workshop. I was going to Berklee during the day and I worked there every night with George Mraz and Jeff Brillinger. The Tristano-ites wanted to sit in but I was expected to do the ‘hotel’ thing of playing bossa novas and stuff like that so they were pretty disdainful of the material. I remember telling Lennie about how inadequate I felt about their reaction and he said, ‘What the fuck do you care about what they think.’

“Lennie liked his students to practice all the scales with different fingers on the keyboard because when you are improvising, you don’t always know what finger is needed at what time. He also wanted his students to learn famous recorded solos like Lady be Good by Lester Young with Basie in 1936. Initially you had to sing it, paying attention to the vibrato and articulation he used and the way Lester bent a phrase. Then you had to reproduce it on the piano. Somehow it became internalised because that type of concentration opened up your ears and your heart in a linear fashion, whereas pianists tend to think mostly in chords. That was something Nat Cole achieved and Bud too, on his good days.

“One of the best times I had with him was just before I went with Woody Herman although Lennie wasn’t happy about that at all. He took me up to his attic where he had a recording studio with a beautiful Steinway and laying on his couch he said, ‘Play for me’. That was my last lesson playing for an hour while he chuckled and applauded – he was right with me all the time.

“Woody Herman must have been looking for a pianist because Jake Hanna and Nat Pierce had been to Berklee asking around and Herb Pomeroy told them to go and listen to me. School was finishing and I needed a gig so I joined the band. Lennie tried to talk me out of it but I didn’t really have a choice because I would have been thrown out of the country. Woody and his manager Hermie Dressel who had taken over from Abe Turchen sponsored me in getting a Green Card.

“I immediately went out and bought the latest Herman album (Light My Fire) which was very appealing to me but we didn’t play that sort of material on gigs.” (The band played officer’s clubs, country clubs and Elks clubs and as Alan told Gene Lees, ‘My first gig was at an army base in Greensboro, North Carolina… and I was appalled. The drummer was turning the time around and some of the soloists were very weak. Steve Lederer who played second tenor with Woody said, ‘You’ve heard of the Thundering Herd? Well this is the worst you ever heard’ – GJ).

“Sal Nistico wasn’t in the band initially but he came in and out from time to time - he was a great guy and we got along really well. Woody always pigeon-holed him into the extreme up tempo things but every once and a while he would throw him a ballad which Sal loved to play.

“After about six months Tony Klatka, Bill Stapleton and I decided to arrange some Blood Sweat & Tears material which was easily adaptable for the band. One BST chart I did was Smiling Phases and the kids went crazy when we played it because it was the popular music of the time.” (Klatka also did a chart on Proud Mary which had been a big hit for Creedence Clearwater Revival - GJ).

“In 1971 the band recorded an album almost totally devoted to my charts (Brand New Woody) and soon after that I was voted The Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition in Downbeat magazine, which of course didn’t make any difference to my career at all.” (Summing up his time with Herman, Alan told writer Scott Yanow, ‘I loved being part of his band although everything I had learned at Berklee went down the drain because it just didn’t work with Woody’ – GJ).

“I left the band in 1972. I just got off the bus in L.A. because it seemed to be an easy thing to do. I had friends there and I had some fantasy about getting into the film industry. I met Don Ferrara around that time who was teaching at Gary Foster’s studio and also Putter Smith who was introduced to me by Nick Ceroli. I’ve been going out to Putter’s place every week-end for about 30 years to play. He now divides his time between New York and Los Angeles and I will be seeing him in a couple of weeks.

“One of the people who was very kind to me when I first arrived in L.A. was JJ Johnson and I perform his Lament on my ‘Round Midnight CD as a tribute to his memory.

Around 1974 I got together with Irene Kral and we worked together until she died in 1978.

“In 1976 I recorded with Don Menza and Frank Rosolino who was a wonderful guy and we really hit it off. He was one of the greatest trombone players who ever lived but he was playing third trombone in the pit in Las Vegas. Supersax sometimes used him but Conte Candoli got most of their work and anyway you’re talking about $35.00 at Donte’s playing your heart out all night. It’s been that way and always will - even in New York City there’s no money. Somehow we all have to figure out how to make sense of the jazz life.

“I worked quite a bit with Jack Sheldon who was hilarious. He could tell the same joke every night and I would just fall apart.” (One of his regular opening lines on a club booking was, ‘It’s so long since I had sex, I can’t remember who gets tied up!’ He also just happened to be one of the all-time greats as a trumpet and vocal soloist - GJ.)

“I worked a lot with Charlie Haden’s Quartet West over the years and one of our CDs has my string arrangement of Tristano’s Requiem which turned out very well. We were on the soundtrack for Clint Eastwood’s movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil accompanying Alison Krauss who is a real darling.” (She is also a superlative singer and fiddle player in the Bluegrass and Country field with Union Station – GJ). “Clint of course was a friend of Jack Sheldon’s and I remember he once flew Jack and I in his private plane from a golf tournament because Jack had a gig in L.A.

“Charlie, Billy Higgins and I did a one-nighter with Chet Baker at a club called Hop Singh’s in the late ‘80s and it was very special. There were only four people in the audience and one of them was my wife. He was the real thing - playing and singing beautifully. I remember that I was feeling good and each phrase I played I could hear Chet sitting behind listening intently saying, ‘Yeah, man’ and being very encouraging. I was in heaven but he disappeared into the bathroom after the first set and never came out again.

“In 1992 I recorded with Scott Hamilton and strings which is a favourite album of mine. He doesn’t read but we just had to play the arrangement through once for him and he got it - he can go directly to his heart because the notes aren’t in the way.” (In 1998 Alan was part of the small group along with Pete Christlieb and Larry Bunker accompanying Diana Krall on her fifth album – When I Look Into Your Eyes which Billboard nominated as one of the top ten jazz albums of that decade – GJ). “I saw Pete recently and he is thinking of packing everything up and moving to Portland. All the studio work he used to do doesn’t exist anymore and there are just no gigs.

“I’ve already mentioned some influences but I must include Nat Cole who was the bridge between the ornamental approach of Teddy Wilson and Art Tatum to the horn-like, single line bebop style that Bud Powell introduced. The rhythm is in the line itself and not in the left hand. Arrangers who are important to me would include Johnny Mandel, Gil Evans, Bob Brookmeyer and Bill Holman.

“As far as free jazz is concerned it can be fine if it is handled by musicians who are aware of form and musical development.  I don’t like meandering music but when Tristano did it with Warne and Lee it was something pretty special. I’m not familiar with much of Ornette Coleman’s music but he is a real composer. His tunes are not just off the cuff dilettante stuff – they’re really musical so I have to respect that.” (At the Watermill Alan performed a well received version of Coleman’s Lonely Woman – GJ). “I listen to a lot of contemporary orchestral composers like John Adams and Elliott Carter - I would rather listen to them because I know there’s an intelligent structure.

“My wife and I had been living in Santa Monica for the past 30 years but we decided to move to New York last year. We have a twelve year old son and he is at that point where he is either going to become a boy-surfer or we can give him some New York culture. When I get back to the States I have one gig booked out in Pennsylvania with Putter Smith but I do have some writing work on hold. I get a joy out of the sound of an orchestra as long as I am given reasonable leeway for how I want to do it”.

Jazz Times has called Alan Broadbent, ‘One of the major keyboard figures today’ but despite being nominated for seven Grammy Awards since 1975 he once told writer Graham Reid, “This is the only profession I know where you can be internationally famous and broke!”


As Leader

Another Time (Trend TRCD-546)

Away From You (Trend TRCD-558)

Live At Maybeck Recital Hall Vol.14 (Concord Jazz  CCD4488)

‘Round Midnight (Artistry Art 7005)

Every Time I Think Of You (Artistry Art 7011)

Live At Giannelli Square Vol. 1 (Chilly Bin Records 35231 82422)

As Sideman

Woody Herman: Brand New (OJCCD 1044-2)

Irene Kral: Where Is Love (Choice CHCD 71012)

Bob Brookmeyer: Olso (Concord Jazz CCD 4312)

Charlie Haden: Quartet West (Verve 831673-2)

Scott Hamilton: With Strings (Concord Jazz CCD-4538-2)

Diana Krall: When I Look Into Your Eyes (GRP 304)

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