Interview de Bobby Bradford par Mark Weber

Now that his gem from the vaults has been released on CD by Dark Tree Records under the title No U Turn (DT(RS)05) I thought to ask Bobby to explain what these compositions are about. We sat down in his studio in Altadena early afternoon of August 13, 2o15 and talked, forty years after this great concert took place. The KPFK jazz radio host John Breckow produced the concerts (there were two others in the series: BB & JC were the 3rd) and Bobby says he got the call and asked John to join him on the date. I wrote extensive liner notes for the release which explain everything. Bertrand and his team did an exemplary job of producing this CD package: graphics, engineering, and feel are all perfect.

Bobby Bradford Interview — Love’s Dream — Track 1

MW:How is the tune “Love’s Dream” constructed? What’s the form?BB: Well now, if I understand the question, often when we talk about form in jazz, we’re talking about groups of bars, and so many of the tunes that we do are often 32-bar form, often referred to as AABA or ABAC or something like that. Well, this tune doesn’t fit any of those. It’s just a little melody that unfolds but you can’t put it in any of those song forms. (Just to make it go really fast here), we play it twice, we repeat it when we play it.

MW: In the opening?

BB: Yes, in the opening, and going out, too, I believe we do, too. But, sometimes when I’m playing that . . . I mean, when I say “sometimes,” I don’t play it that often, but when Trevor Watts and I used to play it, some nights we’d be really wired, man, we’d only play the head once, we were so anxious to get playing we’d go right into the improvisation. We’d go: [scats the melody]. So it’s a very short thematic piece, and it doesn’t break up enough to call it an A and a B part. But you could if you had to. You could make the A part [sings the melody calling out possible bar lines], but it’s not worth it, it’s too short.

MW: How many bars is the piece, how many measures?

BB: Gawd, I don’t know, I couldn’t even tell you right now. We could sit down and figure it in bars, but that doesn’t have a lot of mean, because we often stretch it out over bar lines. [Demonstrates it in a strict manner] But we never play it evenly like that, see what I mean? So, if you sit down and try to notate it so that someone in Tibet could read it [laughing] and put it in bars it’d sound really funny, if you forced it into bar lines, that takes some of the flexibility out of it. See what I mean? It’s like about a ten bar tune.

MW: So, is it just a line?

BB: Well, you could call Charlie Parker’s tunes “lines.” Now, it doesn’t have chords but it’s such that if you wanted to you could sit down and put some chords underneath that melody. But, it wouldn’t work, you see, when we were playing because you wouldn’t know when to play them. That’s the idea of playing a free melody like that. You couldn’t ask a piano player to second guess you about when you’re getting ready to move to the next section.

MW: Is there a tonal center, there’s no home?

BB: There’s no tonal center that you could keep using, like if you’re going to play Charlie Parker’s “Ornithology” or “Anthropology,” that has a basic tonal center that you could play all through the tune, even though it goes to some different chords, what we call secondary dominants if you want to. But you can see that when Charlie Parker is playing “Ornithology” that it’s in the key of G and you can relate to that all the way through the tune. But you can’t do that with this tune.

MW: Did you write this in England? 1973-ish?

BB: Yes, I wrote that while I was in England.

MW: Did you first write it with bar lines?

BB: Uummmm, yeh, but they weren’t bar lines. I would just have a group of notes and I might have had a bar line some place but it wasn’t like I had 4 beats in every bar. It’s like “H.M. Louis,” I don’t know how many bars that is. Now, I have some tunes that I could tell you how many bars it is because it’s about bars, like “Sideman,” see that’s 32 bars because that’s the form and it’s AABA and you keep playing that over and over when you’re playing that tune.

MW: And your “Birdzeg” is based on “Confirmation.”

BB: Right. Now, I wouldn’t play “Birdzeg” and then take it out, or, what’s that other phrase you use?

MW: Open it up?

BB: Right. I don’t use that phrase but I know what people mean. When I play “Birdzeg” I will play those “Confirmation” chords over and over.

MW: Is “Confirmation” rhythm changes?

BB: No, no, no, that’s Charlie Parker’s flag waver, that’s his masterpiece, even he said that. Oh man, that’s brilliant. There’s lot of amazing tunes, even Tin Pan Alley tunes that have lovely chords, but in jazz I don’t think there’s anything before it. That doesn’t mean that there weren’t other tunes just as complex, do you know what I mean? “Prelude to a Kiss,” Duke Ellington ain’t easy (rueful chuckle).

MW: So, you were using the same “Confirmation” chords when you wrote “Birdzeg”?

BB: Yes. I would sit down at the piano and play those chords [plays “Confirmation” on the piano]. I played those chords over and over because that helped me hear the line. “Birdzeg” wasn’t intened to be played without the bass and the piano playing the chord sequence, I enjoyed that, but I wouldn’t want to play like that all night. See, when I play blues, most of the time I play it like 12-bars, but sometimes I play things that are blues-like, that are not 12 bars, but it has all the tonal properties of blues music, but it’s not 12 bars.

MW: What does the title mean, Love’s Dream?

BB: Oh man, whew. That’s, whew (laughing). One of Trevor’s friends asked if it was like that tune by the classical musician, I think Franz Listz, who wrote a piece called “Liebestraum,” which is Love’s Dream. I wasn’t thinking about that then, at that point I was thinking of a romantic kind of thing, like what people mean when two people fall in love. It’s like you know better but you fall in love. My mother, and my elders used to say Yeh well you were just climbing fool’s hill, that’s what the old people say. You just go gaga, there’s no explanation for it, it’s just the dream of what love is about.

Bobby Bradford Interview — She — Track 2

MW: Let’s talk about “She.”

BB: Okay. Well that was originally recorded as “Woman” and that’s on one of those records with Bob Thiele, and they kept moving the publishing around to different people, and right now, you see, when that record is being played some place, I never get a nickel of that, it’s been screwed around, it’s been subletted to Hokey Dokey, and that’s the way they do and I never see a nickel of that. So, anytime that I have recorded or played it since, like when I play it on concerts in Europe where you have to itemize what you played on the concert, I call it “She.” And the money comes right directly to Gethsemane Music. I said something to Bob Thiele about it when I made that record Dedicated to Malcolm X with David Murray and I said Hey, what’s happening? and he said Well it doesn’t amount to much money, and I said I don’t care what it is, I want it! If it’s a nickel, I want it. And he got pissed off, we were having a conversation and he walked off, it really ruffled his feathers.

MW: So, “She/Woman,” what’s the form?

BB: It doesn’t have a form, either. It’s a very short melody. You couldn’t call it AABA or any of that, it’s only about ten bars long. Now, let’s look at the melody [he pulls out the sheet, and counts the bars] Oh, it’s twelve bars long, but it’s not a blues.

MW: So, when you originally wrote it you didn’t put bar lines?

BB: I don’t think I had bar lines, I just had phrases. See when I copyrighted it I put in the bar lines, because you have to send them something.

MW: At one time was this tune called “Omen”? You told me that, ages ago.

BB: Oh, yeh! At first it was “Woe-man,” I don’t know who changed it, maybe somebody at the record company. I had it written down, you know, like in the Bible it says Woe unto you or whoever. I was just being silly, but that’s what it was. And then when it came out they had it changed and so everybody would ask me what woman was that you were thinking about, (laughter).

MW: When did you write it?

BB: I probably wrote it six months before we made that first record on Flying Dutchman FLIGHT FOR FOUR. See, if I had written it earlier we would have used it on our first record that we made that came out on Revelation.

MW: And when you write a tune like that, do you specify the instrumentation?

BB: No, I play that whatever. Of course, most of the time when me and John were going to do anything I wasn’t thinking any bigger than a quartet, ever, you know? We always wanted some material that we could get off on. Like when I was working with Trevor, all those tunes I wrote in Europe were tunes that two horns can play and generate some feeling and just bang.

MW: You once told me that “Woman” was your best effort as a composer.

BB: That’s one of my better tunes, just in terms of a melody that I didn’t have to keep chipping on it, trying to change something, you know, how you edit and change it and change it, I didn’t change a note of that. It came just right out. Like “H.M. Louis.” I wrote “H.M. Louis” in like thirty minutes.

MW: But, you do have tunes that you chip on for awhile?

BB: Oh yeh! Like “Ornate,” I chipped on that for over a year trying to get out of that.

MW: And you still rewrite bass lines for it.

BB: Well, sometimes if a bass player hasn’t played with you before, I write something out for them to get them going. But that tune, man, I kept getting trapped in this one place where it wasn’t working and the more I worked at it the worse it got! that was a motherfucker!

MW: And you also write new counterpoint lines for the other horn on that.

BB: Yeh, sometimes. I get tired and want to hear something new. Now, going back to “Woman,” Tom Williamson played something underneath that with some smears, that’s really good. Eventually, I changed the bass to that ostinato.

MW: Does “Woman” lend itself to having a counter melody?

BB: Well . . .it depends. Let’s just say you were going to do that in a duet, with just me and another horn. I wouldn’t want a horn to play that ostinato. See, because on the bass it has a certain percussive quality that you don’t get on the clarinet. That’s the beauty of the bass, where you’re plucking it, it’s percussive and it’s tonal. Like the piano, you hammer it. But you can always have another line.

Bobby Bradford Interview — Comin On — Track 3

MW: Okay, tell us about “Comin’ On.”

BB: Right. Okay. Let’s see, I’m trying to think if that has a form in the way that you mean it. No, that’s just a short melody, too. But now this is a tune where if I’m playing with people I haven’t worked with a lot because it takes you into the free form really easy. When you get done playing this melody it’s easy for you to get out there, without thinking about a key. But I do have some things that people can play behind “Comin’ On” or can play while the soloists are playing, what I call an obbligato. And everybody’s got something different to play on their parts. The main line is [sings] see, that’s a short line, it’s only [looking at the sheet] one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, uh, ten bars. But then I have some written stuff, something different for everybody, and [ruffling pages] . . . see, here’s the trombone part, and Michael (Vlatkovich) can play any one of these lines lettered A, B, and C. And I say You play those at will, any place you feel the urge to play, you could play those while I’m soloing or I might play them while you’re soloing.

MW: You wrote “Comin’ On” a long time ago?

BB: I think the first record that I used “Comin’ On” was LOST IN L.A. (June 1983)

MW: Really?

BB: Yeh, with me and Kousakis.

MW: But, you wrote it a long time ago? You wrote it back in the New Art Jazz Quartet days.

BB: No, no, no, we didn’t have that then. The Revelation period? I hadn’t written that then. I didn’t play this with John Carter, see, if we had that, it would have been a part of our regular repertoire, because we used it a lot later on.

MW: When you were singing it right now it sounded kind of boppish.

BB: You could say it’s boppish. You could say “His Majesty Louis” is boppish, just based on the articulation. See, when we play “Comin’ On” we never play it even like that, I was just singing it [straight] to bring the tune into focus. Sometimes we speed it up or slow down, we never play it in that bop mode.

Bobby Bradford Interview — Come Softly — Track 4

MW: So, on this November 17, 1975 concert you sit out on John’s composition “Come Softly,” but you’ve played this tune many times over the years.

BB: Oh yeh, I’ve played that lots times with John, as a duo.

MW: So, what’s the form on that.

BB: Well, pretty much like a lot of John’s, it’s a very short tune, it’s not long enough to have, like a bridge, you wouldn’t call it that. If you had to, though, you could break part of it and say this is the A part and this is B, but that would be pushing it. But you could. But, you see it’s not long enough to even worry about the form, there’s not enough bars . . . see, when you say “a form,” well that’s like what people say when you write in the longer forms, it’s more difficult. See, if you were going to write a piece like a symphony, that’s more difficult than writing a march, because the form is so long you have to have some ideas that you develop, like an A section, and then an A2 and then B and C and D and as it gets longer, you know? You can’t write a novel that’s only eight pages (laughter)! A lot of John’s tunes were short, they were intended to be a duet piece. So, a lot of this is dictated by what and who is going to play it and when. So then, when John started thinking about that octet stuff, when he started writing things that were longer, then they do have these sections. Very deliberate. Sometimes the form might be AB or ABCD or ABCAD or three A’s and two B’s, so you could keep track of the form.

Bobby Bradford Interview — Circle — Track 5

MW: And the last track on the album is John’s “Circle.” You and John played that for years. (Appeared first on the fourth album SECRETS, that track recorded November 11, 1971)

BB: Yes. Now, “Circle,” is a very short line, too. That was designed where you play first, and then you play the head afterwards. We didn’t play the head in the very beginning, you blow, and then you play the head at the very end of it. We played that a lot. And we’d play it lickety-split, but if you’re not listening carefully you’ll miss the head on this because we’re just blowing until the very end until we start slipping the head in there.

MW: How do you know when you’re going to go to the head, between you and John?

BB: Well, it depends, if we’re playing in a group, like a quartet, one us might lead back to it, and in duo where we’re standing shoulder to shoulder there, it’s just instant. You know when you’re standing there playing a duo the contact is instantaneous. But if you add drums and bass then you have to cue each other some kind of way. Sometimes, you know, each of us is going to play a long solo, which we did, and then if you’re going to give a solo to the drum or bass, usually we just look at the drum or the bass, so the form for that particular tune was solo + solo + solo + solo + the head at the end. But ordinarily, you play the head, then solos, then maybe group improvisation, then back to the head at the end. Going all the way back to New Orleans, the Swing Era, cool jazz, bebop, post-bop, and it gets to be kind of a habit, that’s why I avoid it now, sometimes, because it sets you into a place where pretty soon you get fixed in the thing and you can’t get out of, you’re trapped into that. This forces you to re-group in your head.

MW: And that was John’s compositional idea all along with “Circle”?

BB: Yes. And I’ve got a Charlie Parker tune where he comes in blowing and doesn’t play the theme until he goes out. So, what I’m saying is, that is not a completely new idea of John’s, like nobody had done that before. Gerry Mulligan has a couple pieces where they start blowing and they don’t play the head till the end. He and Chet Baker would be playing over the changes and then work up to the head. But, by and large, the idea is to play this thematic piece and then try to develop the improvisation based on that, so that’s why you work hard on a piece, so that it has a lot of goodies that’ll catapult you into improvisation.

MW: So, why did John call this piece “Circle,” does it relate to something in the arrangement?

BB: I guess, because sometimes he’d say, we would all improvise in a circle, he’d play, I’d play, then the drum and bass would play, and then maybe we’d go around again. And then we’d go to the head finally.

MW: So, are you just supposing that might be the reason he called it “Circle”?

BB: Well, I don’t remember him saying that, but that’s a good way to describe what happened.

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