You were born in New York City and later moved to Chicago. What drew you to Chicago, musically or otherwise?
Yes, I was born and raised in Manhattan and began my career there in the early 1980s.The actual reason for my relocating is fairly insignificant at this point. It was a lifetime ago. Suffice it to say it was a somewhat uninformed move. However, what is significant is what I did with myself, musically, after arriving here. The first thing I realized was that I needed a car – that taxis to and from gigs just wasn’t going to cut it here as in NYC! For about my first year here I was doing gigs with the local musicians at the time – a lot of the elders, like Irma Thompson, Lin Holiday, Boots Robinson and the like. Names that I’m sure none of the young jazz musicians here today know. But that was a continuation for me of what I’d been doing back in NY, playing there with elders like Al Haig and Walter Bishop, Jr. [both pianists who played with Charlie Parker]..
I also eventually found Chicago peers who were musically likeminded and continued developing with them, which was also very important for my growth. Probably most importantly, as I was continuing to practice, I began to realize my own unique sound and playing style and making it into something that I could exploit. I credit the absence from the immediate influences of a couple of New York guitarists who kind of defined the sound of jazz guitar at that time. Because I was removed from that scene in New York, I was more free to focus on my own sound, which was very different than theirs. Had I stayed in NY, that might not have happened.
As an Evanston resident, what do you find about the city inspiring on a musical level?
Well, I’m not sure if I look at it quite the way you’re asking. I’ve lived in Evanston for 20 years now. During my earlier years here I played one night a week (when I wasn’t traveling) at Pete Miller’s Steakhouse. That’s where I was able to really develop the sound of the Bobby Broom Trio. We became kind of an institution there at Pete’s for about 15 years, from the mid-90s until around 2010. At least that’s how National Public Radio described us when they included us live at Pete’s for their “Toast of the Nation” New Year’s Eve broadcast from ‘major’ cities across America.
The jazz scene that we helped create via Pete Miller’s was very meaningful at that time. Regularly we had audience members from all of the area college music students and jazz fans from all across the country who came in when they were visiting Chicago. Because of our presence on jazz radio across America and in the jazz press, the word was out that we appeared there every week. My wife, Maureen, who works in hospitality and food service, began working there not long after my gig there began. She quickly became manager and then General Manager and was in that position for 11 years. For a period she booked the music at Pete’s (so my gig was secure!) and the musical quality was very high then. I’ll never forget finally seeing what all the commotion was about the Jump & Verve Jazz Festival that she helped coordinate for a few years. I was usually on the road during that time, but one summer I appeared at the festival and was pleasantly surprised to find it on par with the most well run festivals worldwide, and I’ve done a ton of them. Imagine, she had McCoy Tyner playing at Pete’s and Stanley Turrentine and Paquito D’Rivera, among others, on the stages outside! That just goes to show what can happen anywhere when the right people are in positions to make decisions.
So, to answer your question. The musical inspiration really begins with and emanates from the musician(s). In the very best times, there’s a convergence of forces that interact to foster and manifest something special. That happens when collective energies within a community unite. But otherwise, I just really like living in Evanston. I like its energy. It kind of reminds me of my Upper West Side neighborhood in NY in the 70s. It’s culturally vibrant, has great culinary choices and is progressive and diverse – at least on the surface. We still have similar problems to everywhere else in terms of our policing that stem from matters of race. Unfortunately, we in Evanston aren’t immune to problems that affect us as a nation.
You worked with Sonny Rollins and Dr. John. As those elder statesmen of the jazz and soul scenes get older, do you have any particularly fond memories or anecdotes about your time with them?
I’ve been so fortunate throughout my career to have played with so many people whose records and playing I admired when I was a kid. Not only the two you mentioned, but the two pianists I mentioned earlier – my Charlie Parker connections – along with Sonny. Miles Davis – another “Bird” connection – albeit briefly. Art Blakey and the Jazz Mesengers (again brief, but pretty phenomenal to be asked to be their first and only guitarist!). Then there was Stanley Turrentine and Charles Earland, two huge childhood heroes of mine. One of Earland’s hit records was the first real jazz that I ever fell in love with. I was 10 years old and didn’t know anything about jazz. I didn’t even know it was a jazz record, nor did I care. I played that record to death! Then to wind up making records with Charlie, playing in his band and to hear him tell my mother, some 20 years later, that I was his favorite guitar player. … Incredible! That kind of validation stays with a musician for the duration and probably helps them a lot during darker days. Most recently, my bands performed as the opening act for two years of Steely Dan’s North American Tours. Unreal! My little trio?! That was an amazing time. Donald and Walter really loved us and we were really well received by their audiences all over. Some nights I’d hang around backstage just to listen for a bit after our show. Then it would hit me. … “Oh my gosh, that’s Steely Dan!!”
You have a new album of older material, home demos from the mid ’90s. Can you talk a little about the story behind this material and why you decided to release it this year?
Well the real story is that I have a record that hasn’t been released just yet that is a pretty big deal. It was produced by the great drummer/producer, Steve Jordan. He’s produced John Mayer, Keith Richards, Robert Cray, Sheryl Crow, Buddy Guy and so many others. Has played with them all, Clapton, etc. This new record of mine is the most musically accessible for the general public that I’ve ever done, besides maybe my very first one back in 1981. It’s jazz, but there’s a little something for everyone. So I’d been sitting on these home demos for years – things that I’d recorded back in the 80s and 90s. My commercial recording career was relatively dormant during those years and I feel like the fans that I made from my first record, “Clean Sweep,” may wonder where I went. I know my new, as yet unreleased record will speak to them, but I wanted to begin that reawakening with these home demos if possible.
You will be one of the featured performers at Rolling Stones’ bassist Darryl Jones show at The Promontory on Nov. 10, which will be filmed for a documentary. How did the offer to join the show — which will also feature musicians Bobby Sparks (of Snarky Puppy), Nicholas Tremulis and many others — come about?
Darryl called. We played with Miles Davis together in 1987. He was one of Miles’ band of Chicago musicians that was responsible for recruiting me into the band. Darryl actually plays on a song on that batch of home recordings. He’s always loved my playing, as I do his. We’re around the same age, and our paths crossed when he came on the NY jazz fusion scene from Chicago in the 80s. Like two ships, I was coming here and he was going there, but we flashed our lights and sounded our horns at one another. After Miles we played in a kind of alumni band that was made up of Miles’ Chicagoans, with Robert Irving (keyboards) and Tobe Williams on drums, called ESP. We made a record and toured Europe a couple of times with that group.
Your SPACE show on Nov. 12 will feature your trio with Dennis Carroll on bass and Greg Artry on drums. What can we expect to hear at the show?
Well, I’m kind of known for playing my generation’s pop songs (1960s & 70s). I’ve included those songs on quite a few of my recordings. We’ve done several records now and that makes it difficult to choose exactly what to play when we perform. Dennis (another, relatively new Evanstonian) and I have been talking and narrowing it down though. So I think the audience is going recognize a lot of the things that we do.