Bobby Broom was just a teenager when he became enamored with jazz, but even then he figured he'd started too late.
As the Chicago-based guitarist explains in the interview below, he realized even in 1976 that ? human mortality being what it is ? it would be years before he acquired the chops needed to play with his be bop heroes. How many would still be around when Broom was ready?
An impressive percentage, as it turned out. And Broom has made the most of the opportunity over the years, most notably as a veteran member of Sonny Rollins' band.
The guitarist explores the legacy of another jazz giant on his latest album, "Bobby Broom Plays for Monk." Released in June on the Origin label, the disc finds Broom and his longtime rhythm section of Dennis Carroll (bass) and Kobie Watkins (drums) offering their take on such Monk originals as "Evidence," "Ruby, My Dear" and "Bemsha Swing," along with a few standards Monk favored, including "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes." The cover is a witty homage to 1957's "Monk's Music."
The results are deeply satisfying, made more so by the knowledge that ? aside from an early ?40s date with Charlie Christian ? Monk never recorded with guitar. Here's what Broom had to say about Monk, his rhythm section and those aforementioned jazz heroes. Also check out the video below of Broom discussing the project.
Question: There's a quote in your bio about appreciating not just Monk's music but his "personal style." What, specifically, appeals to you about Monk the man and Monk the public figure?
Broom: There seems to have been an honesty and straight-forwardness that ran through his expression, both musical and personal. A colleague from his latter band said that Monk was one of the most honest people he'd known. That quality was evident to me in his writing and his solos but also in his stage presence (how he danced when the music struck him that way) and in how he communicated, with that straightforward wit and dry humor.
Question: As a composer, Monk stands virtually alone in jazz ? a pioneering figure that in a few short years altered the very nature of the music. How would you describe the changes Monk brought to jazz composition? And how did you approach his compositions, such as "Ruby, My Dear"?
Broom: I think that Monk stands alone as a composer and an improviser. His influence goes way beyond technical aspects of the music and is an embodiment of the idea that the art of jazz is a most effective musical vehicle for personal expression. Monk's vision ? how he heard and executed music ? was very idiosyncratic. At the same time though, his knowledge and abilities demonstrated that he had absorbed the jazz idiom that came before him. So when you hear a Monk tune or solo, you are listening to jazz as it had evolved up to that point in time but expressed with a personal twist that you know can only be Monk.
Similarly to how Monk's musical vision manifested in his playing and writing, I knew that the only hope I had of making my interpretations of Monk's compositions translate effectively was if I remained true to my musical self. I had to approach "Ruby, My Dear" with an understanding and respect of the tune's feeling and structure, but allow my musical personality to shine through as I "sang" it.
Question: Discuss, if you will, the chemistry that exists among yourself, Dennis and Kobie. Just listening to the disc, I cannot help but get the sense that the players have a remarkable understanding of each other's tastes and talents.
Broom: Yes, playing with these great musicians for so long has allowed us to become really familiar. That familiarity with each other and with the jazz idiom allows us to communicate very intimately. I think that's what translates in a big way to many listeners.
Question: I had the pleasure to catch Sonny Rollins on closing night of the 2007 Monterey Jazz Festival and the performance was simply galvanic. What is it like to play with a living jazz legend and what impact does that experience have on you when it comes to leading your own group?
Broom: It is still somewhat unbelievable that I am able to experience the relationship that I have with Sonny. I remember being a teen who was so enamored with jazz and, in particular, the bebop movement and its musicians. I thought, since it was 1976 at the time, I'd never get a chance to be involved. To go on to a career in which I've played with the musicians that I have ? Sonny, Miles, Art Blakey, Stanley Turrentine, Al Haig, Kenny Burrell, etc. ? is surreal to think about. But this is how jazz continues to evolve, by the sharing and passing the experience along from generation to generation. I am very fortunate.
As far as how my experience with Sonny and others has impacted me in leading my own band ? I'm sure I'm a better musician for it. Being connected to these major voices in jazz, people with such strong senses of vision and purpose for their music helped me to identify with my own dreams and goals.
Question: Having been raised in the Chicago area, there is a question I ask all Chicago-based musicians: Cubs or Sox?
Broom: You mean Yankees or Mets. I'm from New York and actually was never a baseball fan. But I liked the hot dogs at Shea and Yankee Stadium equally well as a kid. I was a Walt "Clyde" Frazier, Willis Reed, Phil Jackson, 1970s Knicks fan and then after I moved to Chicago, a 1990s Bulls fan ? but who in the world wasn't!