Alan Broadbent has long been a major force behind the scenes in jazz, whether it was accompanying Irene Kral on some of the most exquisite vocal albums ever recorded, contributing arrangements to Natalie Cole or playing piano with Charlie Haden's Quartet West. (Bio Credit: Scott Yanow)
Born in Auckland, New Zealand, Alan Broadbent remembers two key moments in his early musical development. "When I was seven or eight, a few years into playing the piano, I looked forward to the Sunday morning Children's Radio Program hoping to hear if Sparky and his Magic Piano was on. Sparky, who did not practice, had a piano that came to life. He goes on a concert tour with his magic piano that plays whatever he wants. I remember he performed Chopin's Etude #4 in C Sharp Minor Op. 10,' a very fast technical piece that is compact and intense. For the first time, I felt the power of music beyond just the notes. As a teenager, I went through my Dad's sheet music and learned many standard songs. I had an opportunity to see the Dave Brubeck Quartet in New Zealand. I'll always remember Paul Desmond with Brubeck starting off the concert playing 'Tangerine,' a song that I knew, at least the sheet music version. The way they played it was so powerful and so inventive that it was another great moment for me, and the one that inspired me to become a jazz musician."
While still living in New Zealand as a teenager, he began playing with more experienced players who taught him about jazz time and feeling, mostly by listening to Wynton Kelly. From there, he discovered the great improvisers who became influential to his style. When he was 19, Broadbent took a 32-day voyage on the S.S. Maasdam to the U.S. to study at Berklee College Of Music in Boston. While attending Berklee, he worked in a local club and took private lessons from Lennie Tristano, traveling to New York every week on his free school day. "Lennie was a bit hesitant with me at first, until he realized that I knew his music and really wanted to work hard. He had me singing Lester Young solos for two years and working on his exercises. We became good friends and I learned a lot about life from him."
With Chet Baker at Hop Singh's, with Mike Fahn, trombone; and Charlie Haden, bass.
Broadbent gained his initial recognition in the jazz world for his piano playing and arrangements during a three-year period with the Woody Herman Orchestra (1969-72). "I loved being a part of his band although everything I had learned at Berklee went down the drain because it just didn't work with Woody's band! At the time Blood, Sweat and Tears was a huge hit, playing jazz inside a rock and roll framework and it seemed like it would be very adaptable to Woody's band. We were playing country clubs and Army bases and the book was not that good so Tony Klatka, Bill Stapleton and I decided that, since there was a prom coming up, we should do some of these more modern songs for Woody. We wrote all of these new arrangements and the kids loved it because they knew the tunes, so Woody started having me write for him, suggesting that I write "Blues In The Night." During his Herman years, Broadbent was nominated for Grammy Awards for his composition "Children of Lima" and Steely Dan's "Aja".
At the Blue Note Records Festival 2007, Gent Belgium.
"On my trio recordings," says the pianist, "I basically ask the guys what they would like to play. For 'Round Midnight, I wanted to record a couple of my originals and there was a short list of tunes that I was hoping to improvise on, but that is always open to change. We had a completely improvised experience and I did not have any preconceptions. I don't like overly planned "big band trios," preferring to concentrate on interplay and listening to each other. I've known Joe LaBarbera since our Woody Herman days, before he joined Bill Evans. His impeccable taste, ability to always swing and quick reactions are well known. Brian Bromberg I met on a Lee Ritenour jazz date in the 1990s. He's a great virtuoso and always a pleasure to play with."
Although 'Round Midnight is a very spontaneous set, the playing is always coherent and logical due to the big ears and quick reactions of the three musicians. The program begins with Dizzy Gillespie's "Groovin' High," "Serenata" and J.J. Johnson's "Lament." Broadbent's personal chord voicings, flawless octave playing and superior accompaniment skills (heard behind Bromberg's occasional solos) are very much in evidence. His harmonically rich and lyrical original "Die Vereinbarung" ("Covenant") is dedicated to the music of Vienna and has a wistful melody. He also wrote "Journey Home" about his early days playing in New Zealand. Its relaxed theme is catchy and it has a particularly attractive set of chord changes for the musicians to play over. "I'm Old Fashioned" is given a particularly inventive interpretation while always keeping the melody in mind. Asked to pick a personal favorite performance on the set, Broadbent named "'Round Midnight" (this track was nominated for a Grammy Award as Best Improvised Solo), although the cooking version of "The Man I Love" that concludes the set is also quite worthy. "I have favorite moments throughout the disc where there is a phrase I particularly like. Overall, this is a good example of how we play together and is one of my favorite personal recordings."