PREVIEW/ INTERVIEW: Alan Broadbent (UK dates, Nov 18th-27th)

AlanBroadbent. Photo Credit: Yngve Froyen

Pianist Alan Broadbent has worked with Woody Herman, Irene Kral, Diana Krall, Charlie Haden, Natalie Cole and many others. He visits the UK later in the month for a short tour. Kathryn Shackleton talked to him before he boarded his flight from his home in the US to Europe:

LondonJazz News: When was your first encounter with the piano?

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Alan Broadbent: Well, I realised that it was more than just a piano when I heard on a children’s programme on the radio something called Sparky’s Magic Piano playing Chopin’s Etude No 4 in C sharp minor. I just remember it reaching out and grabbing me. The personality of Chopin and the feeling across generations were right there in front of me – I was only 8 years old!

LJN: What drew you to jazz? 

AB: Dave Brubeck came to New Zealand with his famous Paul Desmond quartet and that’s when I heard jazz for the first time. Then it was just a matter of seeking out guys who could play and teach me how to do it, and luckily – they found me. I learned through them to play the authentic type of swinging jazz that I love so much.

LJN: How do you come to be playing with the NDR Bigband for your recent album, ‘America the Beautiful’?

AB: My friend and manager in Germany, Jan Matthies, set up a meeting with Jörg Achim Keller, the musical director on the album. Jörg knew my stuff from Woody, and for the recording I updated some of my older big band charts – honing and polishing some of those that stand the test of time. I also wrote brand new charts for this recording, and these I approached with much more wisdom! The whole album was really a showcase for my songs because I haven’t had an outlet for them until now.

UK vocalist Georgia Mancio is now writing lovely lyrics to my pieces and I can’t wait to play some of them with her when I’m in the UK. I’ve spent my life trying to get better at what I do and I sometimes seem to be in a parallel world to the rest of the universe, but this is a chance to express the tunes that I think are really memorable and add to the tradition that I’m interested in and the Big Band seems a pretty good medium for this.

LJN: What do you mean by that? – you have been in a parallel universe?

AB: Well, I haven’t tried to keep up with the times, musically. I’ve just tried to improve what I do. There are plenty of guys who surge on – I envy them! – and they adopt each contemporary style as they go along, but I’ve always wanted that swing feeling, interesting harmonies and beautiful melodies.

LJN: You’ve also released an album of solo piano this year. How does that discipline differ from playing with a Big Band?

AB: Solo piano for me is an improvising experience. I don’t ever play the same tune in the same way more than once. They are snapshots of feelings in the moment. I like to play solo piano that way. It’s unpredictable, and that’s what jazz is to me. You can get a great sense of swing in solo piano. I’m really interested in the moment-to-moment feeling. With the big band, you are a composer who is looking back to phrases and looking to develop them in a new way, whereas to me the best improvisers are always looking forward to endless melody. In solo piano what drives me is to take the structure of a piece and make it different every time.

LJN: When you come over to the UK you will be rehearsing and playing gigs with the Mark Nightingale Big Band for the first time.  Is it a challenge to work with a band that you have never met before?

AB: At least I know what the music is supposed to sound like! The first time playing with a new band is a bit scary, but I know from experience working with Natalie Cole in England and a few other situations, including with Charlie Haden, the quality of the musicians in England is of the highest standard. Not only that – they put something more than just the notes into the music, so I really am looking forward to that. It’s like hearing your music again but with a different polish to it. It’s very exciting.

LJN: How will you approach the rehearsal?

AB: Well, I’ll just count it off! They know what to do – we’ll just discuss the dynamics for solos, make sure we get the tempos right and it will go great!

Alan Broadbent plays music from his recent CD ‘America the Beautiful’ with the Mark Nightingale Big Band at

– The Apex, Bury St Edmunds on Nov 18th 
–  Watermill Jazz, Dorking on Nov 27th. 

He plays in duo with vocalist Georgia Mancio

–  Pizza Express Jazz Club, Dean St., London on Nov 26th. 

 Alan Broadbent’s big band album ‘America the Beautiful’ was recorded with the NDR Big Band and released this year on Jan Matthies Records. His solo album, ‘Just One of Those Things ‘, was released on the Edition Longplay label.

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