Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Brookmeyer, Bob (Robert Edward)

Brookmeyer, Bob (Robert Edward); valve trombone, composer, piano; born in Kansas City, Missouri on December.19, 1929. Parents Elmer Edward Brookmeyer (24 Dec 1889- Feb 1964)and Mayme Marie Brookmeyer (3 Dec 1890 - Apr 1984).

His father liked music and brought home an old clarinet when he was 8. In 1941, he heard the original Basie Band at the Tower Theater  in Kansas City and he decided he had to do something like that. Due to dental discomfort he decided to change instruments in 1943 and worked as a day laborer in the summer to save up for a drum set (trumpet was his second choice). However the band director needed a trombone player. He briefly studied with a German trombonist who was also a writer of marches, and when Bob saw his neatly written scores, that inspired him to write. So at 14, he  became a professional arranger/copyist, writing for local dance bands. When he was 15, he heard Debussy and Stravinsky for the first time  and decided to compose as well.

At 16 the family got a player piano and Bob began to learn it and was quickly able to gig on piano. He went to KC Conservatory for 3 years, was a piano minor, and played piano with Orrin Tucker's band including 3 months in Chicago  and 3 months in San  Francisco. While playing nights with Tucker at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago late 1946 he jammed there during the days with Tiny Kahn, Lou Levy, Frank Rosolino, Ira Sullivan, Doug Mettome, Max Bennett (Kahn and some of the others were in town with the Herbie Fields band). During this time period he had offers to play piano from Wingy Manone and Vido Musso but he was called to join the military and couldn't accept any of these offers.

After a short stint in the Army, he joined Tex Beneke, playing piano. He left Beneke to work with group that could help me get my union card-- Ray McKinley, Louis Prima, and as a house pianist at  Stuyvesant Casino in Manhattan, where he played with Coleman Hawkins, Buck Clayton, Ben Webster and others.

His first official jazz band was Howard McGhee, with Charlie Rouse and Elmo Hope, a sextet that did a few gigs,  and then Teddy Charles with Mingus and Al Levitt. Bob would play piano in the latter group when they would try some very free versions of standard tunes. Claude Thornhill re-formed in the fall of '52, and Brookmeyer played valve trombone, selling his slide trombone; he also filled in on piano when Claude wanted to take a break for a tune or for the last set. He was with Thornhill for about 6 weeks, including two at the Statler Hotel in Manhattan. That period included his first performance with Charlie Parker -- a rehearsal with Bird and Strings, subbing for Walter Bishop, and his first performance at Birdland in Manhattan, playing piano with his hero, trombonist Bill Harris.

He left Thornhill and joined Stan Getz for a week in Boston, then to Woody Herman for 6 weeks,  rejoining Getz in early '53.  He recorded his first record with Getz in New York, then to California for the summer at Zardis where he met Mulligan and Chet Baker. They played a lot after work, and Mulligan considered forming a quintet, with Bob and Chet Baker, but in January 1954 Mulligan instead formed a quartet with Brookmeyer. They traveled about for 6 months, winding up in Paris for a festival, during which time he got to play with Monk. He left the Mulligan group, moving back to LA, stayed until Getz started a  short-lived sextet, then back to Mulligan.

He left Mulligan in 1958 to join  the Jimmy Giuffre 3, with Jim Hall; they did a great deal of unrecorded free improvisation. He left to move back to New York to do studio work. He played in one set at Town Hall (November 28, 1959, one of several groups that evening) with Coltrane, Pepper  Adams, George Duvivier, Art Taylor and his idol Basie. He had a longstanding relationship with Duke Ellington, who asked him to join the band in 1962, but at this point Brookmeyer was going through an expensive divorce and couldn't afford to give up his studio work.

In January 1960 Mulligan formed the Concert Jazz Band with Brookmeyer featured as composer and soloist; it lasted until December '64, closing the original Birdland. Meantime, Clark Terry and he started a quintet at the  behest of the Half Note; they worked together until '68, and played for soundtracks to movies to advertisements. Thad  and Mel Lewis started a big band at the  Village Vanguard in Feb. '66, and there he was also a featured composer and soloist. During this period he also played in a short lived small group of Jimmy Giuffre who at the time played a rather avant-garde tenor saxophone. Also around this time he appeared in a TV bank commercial that showed him buying a lawn tractor and then playing in a club. When he got a large check for this, he looked at the ad agency's address on the check and made this oft-quoted comment at Jim & Andy's bar: "It's not that I wouldn't sell out before. I just didn't know the address."

But he was developing a problem with alcohol so he moved to LA to see if that would help. There he became a movie/TV studio player, but alcoholism continued to be a problem until late '76 when he was recuperated with professional help, and even counseled other alcoholics for a while. Bill Holman, drummer Michael Stephans, and a movie gig from Roger Kellaway got me back in the music business and Getz took me to Europe for 3 months in early '78. He then stayed in NY, recording a quartet, forming a duo with Jim Hall, and began to write again for what was now the Mel Lewis Orchestra. After a couple of years, he began to experiment in music for chamber ensembles and large orchestras. Europe became his training ground for composing and conducting. he learned business from producer John Snyder, studied conducting with Joel  Thome and composition with his friend, Earle Brown.

He got a number of NEA grants, and commissions from Stockholm and Cologne and began to write larger scale works for Jazz Orchestra, mainly for the WDR in Cologne. Jim Hall and John  Abercrombie were in two of the initial pieces; Jim McNeely became essential. He began teaching graduate students at Manhattan School and BMI asked him to direct a Composers Workshop in 1988 - that Workshop was the beginning of his love for teaching. His fourth wife that year became happily his last and they moved to Rotterdam to start a school for improvised music, but this was unsuccessful. They came back to the U.S. in '94, built a house in Hanover, NH, then moved a little south of that to a modern, hilltop chalet, with mountain views.

He has been a frequent guest in Cologne and Copenhagen, where he has directed composition workshops. He was conductor of Danish Radio Big Band for about a month, during which time he conducted Art Farmer on Sketches of Spain; surgery for mouth cancer and personnel problems brought this to an end. In Europe he has been for some years primarily associated with the New Art Orchestra, an eighteen-piece ensemble formed in Lubeck, Germany, which he created and directed. Its first concert season was in 1994 and its first recording made in 1997. He also teaches at the New England Conservatory in Boston.

He is a witty and forthright person, many of  whose outspoken writings may be found on his website.

Discography, TV, Radio:
His vast discography includes numerous recordings as a leader, and as a sideperson with Mulligan, Giuffre, George Russell, Bill Evans, and many others. He has made numerous television and radio appearances (one is at http://www.jazzscene.no/jazz/index.html; click on Show Files).

Anon., Bob Brookmeyer - Je n'aime pas la cote ouest, in: Jazz Magazine, #15 (Mar.1956)
Steve Voce: West Coast Jazz? There's No Such Thing..., in: Melody Maker, 18.May 1957
Howard Lucraft: Brookmeyer for Britain, in: Melody Maker, 9.Nov.1957
Bob Brookmeyer: Reviews. The John Lewis Piano / Miles Ahead, in: Jazz Review, 1/1 (Nov. 1958)
Bob Brookmeyer: ... revisits Kansas City. Bob Brookmeyer's Notes on United Artists Album, in: Metronome, 76/1 (Jan.1959)
Bill Coss: Afterhours. A Jazz Discussion with Clark Terry, Don Ellis, Bob Brookmeyer, Hall Overton, George Russell, in: Down Beat, 28/23 (1961)
Bill Coss: Bob Brookmeyer. Strength and Simplicity, in: Down Beat, 28/2 (1961)
Martin Williams: Brookmeyer, Mulligan, and the Concert Jazz Band, in: Martin Williams: Jazz Changes, New York 1992 [book; reprint from 1961)
Martin Williams: Gerry Wasn't Talking. An Interview with Bob Brookmeyer, in: Metronome, 78/5 (May 1961)
Jean-Louis Laugier & Jean Wagner: Entretien. Le bel indifferent, in: Jazz Magazine, #88 (Nov.1962)
Les Tomkins: Bob Brookmeyer, Crescendo 1965; online at jazzprofessional.com
Dan Morgenstern: Bob Brookmeyer, Master of the Brass Stepchild, in: Down Beat, 34/2 (1967)
Martin Williams: Giuffre/Brookmeyer Reunion, in: Martin Williams: Jazz Changes, New York 1992 [book; Reprint from 1968)
Jaap L'deke: Herboren Bob Brookmeyer zit weer vol met creatieve ideeIn, in: Jazz Nu, #118 (Sep.1988)
Robert M. Hudson: The Improvisational Style of Bob Brookmeyer, in: Jazz Research Papers, 12 (1992; transcriptions)
Bernard Joyeux: TItes d'affiches. Bob Brookmeyer, un Americain fait l'Europe, in: Jazz Man, #16 (Dec.1992)
Jeroen de Valk: Bob Brookmeyer: 'De goden zijn dood', in: Jazz Nu, #179 (Jan.1994)
Trevor Hodgett: Bob Brookmeyer. An Interview, in: Coda, #257 (Sep/Oct.1994)
Jan Persson: Bob Brookmeyer, in: Jazz Special, #18 (Oct/Nov.1994)
Jonathan Abbott: Bob on Bob, in: Jazz on CD, 1/10 (Nov.1994)
Anon.: A Conversation with Bob Brookmeyer, in: The Note, 7/2 (May 1995)
Gordon Jack: Bob Brookmeyer, in: Jazz Journal  (Nov.-Dec. 1995)
Steve Voce: Scratchin' the Surface... Bill Not Phil - Or Bob or Jack, in: Jazz Journal, 49/6 (Jun.1996)
Antonio Garcia: Transcription. Down Beat, 64/1 (Jan.1997)
Steve Voce: Scratchin' the Surface... King of the Valve Trombone, in: Jazz Journal, 50/1 (Jan.1997)
Chip Deffaa: Out and About in New York. Bob Brookmeyer, in: Crescendo & Jazz Music, 34/3 (Jun/Jul.1997)


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