A Moment With Bobby Broom
Nursing my tonic water a few tables from the stage, I watch shadowy figures amble about in the orange light of Martyr's, lugging amps across the wood floor, unpacking black cases. A not-quite lanky, smooth skinned man comes through the door and sets down onto a cocktail table, a soft, well-loved, latte-colored leather guitar case. A really nice case.
For those of you uninitiated, Bobby Broom's jazz guitar is sometimes funky and sometimes bluesy (among other wonderful things), but always articulate and deeply soulful. His lyrical solos evoke both delicate restraint and enveloping intensity. A one-time child prodigy who has played with the masters of jazz, including Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins, Broom has come into his own with the Bobby Broom Trio and recent recordings. He has been reviewed in several major publications, including the Chicago Tribune and the Reader (both available online). I had the privilege of having several conversations with him between sets over a couple of Sundays at Martyr's in Lincoln Park. I could say that I learned from him what it takes to be a jazz master, and that would be true, but I think my most relevant take away was about something spiritual.
At 29, I've only recently grasped my own calling in life. Bobby purchased that "bad-ass" guitar case at 16, over 20 years ago. "Can you believe that?" he smiles and shakes his head, "Walking around with a case like that at that age?" He knew then who he was and has unwaveringly pursued the art of jazz expression since. As he says in the liner notes to his release, Modern Man, "… I thought, 'OK if I can learn to play the guitar like this and make myself feel as good as this is making me feel right now, then that's what I want to do.' That was really a turning point for me. I guess that was when I made my decision to be a musician."
Watching Broom at work, you can't miss his utter focus on quality. A three-way dialogue between drummer Dana Hall, bassist Dennis Carroll and Broom simmers between (and during!) songs. Often it's just Bobby, pulling the group together. I can't make out details but this time it seems to be about syncing tempos. The band plays twice a week, which is enough 'exercise', according to Broom. If the band's bookings go down to once a week, they schedule practices (something that hasn't happened for a while now). When he was younger, Broom practiced much more, "I just wanted to get good so badly."
Mid-conversation, Broom starts singing the beat of a song coming from the loud speaker, a broad smile of recognition on his face. "[John Coltrane's] Blue Train with [trumpeter Lee] Morgan." He and his roommate at school had played it over and over again. Indeed, leisure and lessons both included learning the masters. "You do have to learn, some pieces you must know... the history, the pedagogy, deep in history…" But jazz is also an "improvisational art, like Jackson Pollack's splash paintings." The influences that inform his improvisation and compositions include everyone that was around him growing up as well as the masters studied in school. However, "There are more rules in this... traditional jazz."
What did Bobby Broom learn from working directly with the masters? "How to live on the road. It gets lonely on the road. You learn how to find peace." How does he deal with the stress? "Sleep. Shopping. I like clothes." Of course, I immediately survey his current outfit, which is an orange colored pullover and black leather slacks. I've also seen him in a buff-colored tailored leather waist-length jacket with similarly colored Dutch, clog-like, shoes. His dress is somewhat simple and warm, with just a single touch of flash, which seems to fit him and his music.
While Broom has the training, talent, and commitment of a master, he also has the heart and mind of one. Caring about connecting with his audience contributed to the production of Stand!, his new album of 60's and 70's covers. A pragmatic business decision as well, Broom indicates, "People don't want to hear new stuff… This gives them a way to relate. I do compose but now is not the time [to introduce a large body of new compositions]."
Broom acknowledges that he has been better prepared to do the work of a professional musician, now, in his 40's. He brings maturity to the work he could not before. About his current success, Broom is pretty content, although of course he's looking forward to increased visibility due to increased pedestrian traffic in the areas building up around his venues.
We continue to chat about life in general, the differences between Chicago, Evanston (his current home) and his native New York, and the fact that he is enjoying his recent second marriage. I contemplate this peaceful aura before me, always draped in something earth-toned. I once asked him about how he hooked up with someone like Miles Davis (who doesn't ask that question?). He said "Magic." He himself had felt that luck and believed in it, that "synchronicity" that keeps the world turning. He wanted it, to be able to play with the greatest players, but it wasn't something he could do on his own and will it, as he can practice and focus. I strongly feel that I was with someone who was working with and not against himself and the world. Which, as powerful as his tangible accomplishments are, actually moved me more.
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