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  • Smooth Jazz Network

Brian Bromberg: Behind the Beats

Updated: Jun 12, 2021

Each week we'll take you 'Behind the Beats' to learn more about the artists that play on our airwaves. This week: Brian Bromberg.

“Walking On Sunshine” is such a classic, feel good tune. What inspired you to jazz it up?

I guess I’m a sucker for feel-good songs! I have recorded a few other feel-good cover songs in my career, like September from Earth Wind and Fire, and Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is, by Chicago. Walking On Sunshine is another one of those feel-good, positive energy songs with such a great hook and melodic content. To me, songs like this are no-brainers as they were all major smash hits that people all over the world know instantly when they hear them. Perfect for Smooth Jazz where sometimes artists identity is tough with instrumental music, but a great song that everyone knows, get’s your attention immediately, and you are singing along with it the first time you hear it! Plus, from an arranger/producer point of view, I love the challenge of taking songs from different genres and making them work for Smooth Jazz in an authentic way, that’s fun to do!

How was it working with Dave Koz?

Dave was great to work with! I have known Dave since he was the sax player in the Jeff Lorber band back in 1948! We’ve done little things together over the years but never a real track together on a CD. He played his butt off on it! I hope we can do some more together down the line and maybe even do it live together, that would be awesome! His energy is fantastic and infectious.

I understand you just released a music video for the single as well….

Actually, it is coming out this week! It was a trip to do because of Covid-19 and social distancing, but the video looks great and is a lot of fun. It’s cool because I play three different types of basses on the track on the CD, so I had to shoot three different videos of me playing the three different bass parts, so what you hear and see is the same thing. Tom Zink, the keyboard player in my band is also a fantastic video editor. He did the Walking On Sunshine video as well as two videos from my Holiday CD that came out this past year. Celebrate Me Home, and Let It Snow. Both those videos came out great, and again all shot during the Covid-19 lockdown.

You are one of the true veteran artists in smooth jazz, with your roots in Jazz… playing in Stan Getz quintet when you were just 19!

Yeah, I’m the old guy now! It’s a trip as I was always the youngest guy in the band for a huge part of my career, and then poof, you become the old guy!

It’s amazing Allen, how fast time is flying by. When my father passed in 1996 I wrote a song called I Fell Asleep A Child and Woke Up A Man, it is on my You Know That Feeling CD I believe? The whole point of that song was looking in the mirror of my life and how quickly life goes by.

When I think of playing with jazz sax legend Stan Getz at 19 years old it blows my mind, as that was a lifetime ago! But, I remember it well and it was a life-changing event for me as I was just a kid playing with local players in Tucson, Arizona. I got recommended to Stan by Marc Johnson, he was the bassist with jazz piano legend Bill Evans at the time. He heard me play when the Bill Evans Trio came to Tucson for a week of workshops and concerts. Seven months later Marc recommended me to Stan Getz. Stan called me on the phone at my parent's house while I was rehearsing with my local band. My mom came into the room we were rehearsing in and said, “Brian, Stan Getz is on the phone for you”. The sax player in my band had to sit down he was so freaked out, and I almost threw up! Long story short, I fly to NYC with my bass and auditioned with Stan’s band. The late great Chuck Loeb was the guitar player in the band as well. I got the gig and the rest as they say was history I guess. It was an amazing musical and life-changing experience. I cherish it to this day.

Along the way, you have performed with some amazing artists. Any standouts? Any performers you are hoping to perform or record with in the future?

Oh man, that is almost impossible to answer when you have been as blessed as I have been in my career with the number of talented people I have been fortunate enough to perform or record with. Sadly so many of the greats and legends have passed, and many of those who I have played with are also gone. Hmmmm… I would say in no particular at all:

Herbie Hancock - He is a genius and probably the most amazing musician I have ever played with. His sheer artistry and ownership of the music and his instrument. Overwhelming.

Sting - We did one project together. It was amazing to hear his voice and my upright bass together, remarkable. I would love to do more with him.

Sadly, several other artists that I would the chance to play with again have left us.

Tell us about bringing the bass guitar from the rhythm section to the front of the band…

Well, that started back in the ’70s with bass players like Stanley Clarke and Jaco Pastorius. They were the first “jazz” bass superstars that paved the way for the rest of us. In my case it just kind of happened organically. You know I never thought I would play on anyone’s record let alone do my own records as a solo artist. That NEVER crossed my mind, as all I wanted to do was to be a jazz bass player and be as good as I could be, nothing else mattered. It all just kinda started to happen on its own. But, when I saw that it was happening and I had a shot and knew I could do it, I dedicated myself to being the best I could be and try and take the bass to the next level musically by pushing the envelope as a bass player and being the lead voice in a way that worked on commercial radio. Back in the day radio would rarely play bass players records nor would they play bass solos on the air. I realized that if I made the sound of my bass more accessible to a larger audience by tuning the bass to the register of a guitar then radio will play my music as it didn’t sound like a bass player's record. Let’s be honest, back in those days the only people who cared about bass player records were usually other bass players! Over time radio loosened up and started to play bass player's records. Now I hear a lot of bass players on the radio and I think it’s awesome. To me, there are two kinds of music, music that’s played well and music that’s not played well. When music is good it almost doesn’t matter what the style is. Good is good, even if it comes from a bass player's record!!

You are also a producer and composer. Tell us about your process in those areas.

Just like I stated before that I never thought I would ever have my own solo CD's, I never thought I would be a producer. It just evolved naturally as I started recording as a solo artist in my early twenties in Tucson, Arizona, and there weren’t any jazz record producers hanging around the Sonoran desert, just cactus! So I just started doing it myself without a clue of what I was doing and making decisions with my gut feelings and instinct. Yikes!

The production process changes with the project, style, genre, budget, and most importantly the artist's voice, as every project and artist is different. For me, production is doing a couple of really important things. My job to help bring the artist's vision to light as it is their music, not mine. I want the artists recording to sound like them, not me. Sadly there are some producers who kind of have one sound and vibe, and everything they produce sounds essentially the same most of the time, and sounds more like them vs. the artist they are producing. That does not mean that it’s not good, it just means that I can hear a few seconds of a song no matter who the artist is and I can tell who produced it.

Also, it’s about the big picture. As a producer, I am responsible for every note of music you hear. The reverbs, effects, instrument panning in the stereo spectrum, each instrument's volume, impact, and sound, etc… From the solo artist lead track to the triangle that gets hit one time in the song, if it’s there it needs to be right or it shouldn’t be there.

I am very proud that I can play you several different records of artists that I have produced and you would have no idea who the producer is on any of them, as the music sounds like the artist's vision, not mine. I’m just there to help make their vision stronger and come to life.

I love the name of this band - Brian Bromberg's Unapologetically Funky Big Bombastic 10 Piece Band!

Thank you, I think it’s awesome and fun, that name says it all! I want people to know what to expect and what they are going to hear when they come to that show. Fasten your seat belts, it’s gonna get funky up in here! Honestly, it is a blast as I either look like an accountant or the most interesting man in the world from those Dos Equis commercials. They are not going to expect some hardcore in-your-face groove from me, so the name is a great warning in advance!

How did this pandemic impact you personally and professionally?

Honestly, I think I had Covid very early on. I went to the NAMM show in Anaheim in mid-late January 2020. That is the largest music industry trade show in America. Tens of thousands of people every day for four straight days. A huge amount of the retail music industry's products are made in China and a lot of people from China as well as Americans who do business in China travel back and forth all the time. A week or so after the show I got really sick. I literally couldn’t walk up two or three stairs without being totally out of breath and would have to stop. It kicked my butt. I would pass out and fall asleep at my desk on the computer and stop working to go lay down a few times a day. It was awful. The real drag is that I have not been the same since. I get the long hauler syndrome for sure. Also, in a weird way, my life now is very different as I left LA almost five years ago and live in a very rural area with big properties and lots of space. We have horses and live a very secluded life a tad outside of civilization, so life, in general, is social distance living. So, again in a weird way it wasn’t much different than before the pandemic, except you couldn’t go out to eat, etc… Honestly, that was ok as I do a lot of cooking. I’m not a great cook by any stretch, but I enjoy it! I’ve been told I boil a mean water and my toast rocks!

The irony of the tragedy of the Covid-19 virus and lock-down was that it forced me to be creative on my own and write and produce. I remixed and remastered my Jimi Hendrix tribute CD. I arranged, produced, and recorded my first Holiday CD Celebrate Me Home, The Holiday Sessions, and I wrote, recorded, and produced my new CD A Little Driving Music. So in a very strange way the pandemic lockdown was really good for me creatively and as an artist.

What advice do you have for young musicians just starting out.

Get out before it’s too late, you can save yourself! I’m kidding. I will say the music industry as a whole is not what it used to be and it is much harder to earn a living these days and rely on the music business to take care of you in your senior years. It has really changed.

With that said I will say what I always say. If you have a real dream then you need to follow your dream with everything you have. Just do me one favor, be yourself and don’t copy or try and do what someone else is doing. There is room for innovators and artists with their own voice, but there isn’t room nor do we need artists who copy or sound like others in the format. Be a creator, not a replicator. Instrumental music is really hard to establish your own sound and voice, much harder to do than the human voice in vocal music. One of the main reasons why the stars of the format are the stars of the format is because they don’t sound like anyone else, they sound like themselves. That is the way it is supposed to be. Be yourself and honor your individuality.

Playing on a two-chord vamp over a drum loop does not make you an artist, almost anyone can do that. But, tell me a story, say something as a human, a musician, an artist, a spiritual being, someone who has mastered their instrument and the music. That makes you an artist.

What’s next for you?

My new album A Little Driving Music just got released and I am starting to book some dates, thank God. I can’t wait to play with humans on stage for other humans! Been a year and a half since I have done that and I am going nuts! I hope we can get some real dates and festivals this year etc… it’s tough out there these days.

On a completely different front, I decided to go back to school and go for my Executive MBA. Me of all people, a high school dropout going for an Executive MBA at my age? Holy crap Batman! Seriously, with all the changes in the music industry and what Covid-19 did to musician's revenue stream I decided that I need to evolve my mind, business acumen, and expand my world, inside and outside the music industry. I just started in May and it’s amazing, already making a difference in my life, and how I think and look at things. It’s scary as all get out but I am in it to win it and incredibly fortunate to have been accepted to a high-end program like this. It is the PKE Executive MBA through the Graziadio Business School at Pepperdine University. Crazy!!!

Stay up to date with Brian Bromberg by visiting his website, here.

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