Courtesy of BoBOBBY BRADFORDy Bradford



(May 13, 2003)

In Black Music, Amiri Baraka (then Leroi Jones) noted that Bobby Bradford represented part of the "new wave" of young trumpet players. Baraka observed Bradford's admiration of Fats Navarro (Bradford has been often compared to Don Cherry). In Bradford's words (1962), "I thought Fats was God...when my playing was being molded, I wanted to play like Fats." Bradford's comments make sense and help me appreciate his music (e.g. Lost in L.A. featuring Roberto Miranda and Comin' On). But Bradford is not Fats Navarro and he certainly is not Don Cherry, he is his own man (probably has been all along, even if writers are catching up to that fact now) and the preeminent cornet player of any generation. The fact that Bradford is a resident of our fair city is a tremendous source of pride for me. A new record with his Mo'tet (two decades since Lost in L.A.), Bradford spoke and I listened, as always, unedited and in his own words.

FRED JUNG: There are should have, would have, could haves of remaining in Los Angeles.

BOBBY BRADFORD: Well, I didn't grow up here and when I came here, I had already been to New York. I spent about three years in New York playing with Ornette Coleman and others. I left Ornette Coleman and went back to Texas to go to college to finish my degree in music. That was a decision I made, mainly based on my family. I had a wife and three kids and what I was doing in New York wasn't providing anything close to a stable livelihood. That is what made my go back to college. When I graduated from college in Texas, I taught for a year in the public schools in Texas, trying to get the family on some sort of stable footing. I decided to come to Los Angeles because my mother lived here and so did my brother. I knew coming out here with a wife and three kids, if I got into trouble here, I would have some resources. When I came to LA, I started teaching in the public schools here too, trying to get something going in music and that is when I met John Carter. What brought us together was the fact that we had a lot of common ground. We both had families that we were not willing to sacrifice by going to New York. We were both teachers and we both had an interest in the new music. That is what brought us together. When we started the New Art Jazz Ensemble here, we were determined to make it work and was only interested in going to New York to play concerts or to make a recording. We were determined not to pack up and move and go back there. It was a conscious act on both our parts. Lots of people were saying that we ought to go to New York. In fact, Bob Thiele from Impulse! and Flying Dutchman, he kept saying that we should come back to New York and we would get more gigs in Europe just based on the cheaper airfare from New York. We would be more high profile and make more records and all that stuff, but neither of us, and I am speaking especially for myself, but he and I talked about it, we were not willing to uproot our
families to do it.

FJ: Do you think of what could have been had you stayed with Ornette?

BOBBY BRADFORD: If I had stayed, number one, I was going to have to do something else in New York to get a livelihood because that was right in the middle of a period where he had decided to boycott the clubs. He expected you to sort of just survive the best you could. When he wasn't working, there was no money and you have to figure out something to do, even if you don't have a wife and kids. For example, let's say we worked at the Five Spot for three weeks and then we are off for five weeks, there is not money. You have to find something else to do and I played with other bands and took whatever I could get. I even played with some salsa bands. That is not just Ornette, all the guys in New York, they expect you to just hang in there and make do in whatever way you can. Some guys do and a lot of guys, their families break up right there. The wives are determined not to do it and they pack up and go back to where they came from.

FJ: How did the gig with the UKers John Stevens and the Spontaneous Music Ensemble come about?

BOBBY BRADFORD: Now, I was established in Los Angeles and by that time, John Carter and I had already made four records. I had a feeling that I might be able to do something in Europe and so I went and stayed. I lived in England for close to a year. I went over one summer, it must have been the summer of '70, on just a teacher's charter, which was a real cheapy, to just check the scene out. I met some people when I was there while I was checking the turf out to see what it would be like if I came over there to play music, could I make a living playing? And I already had a little reputation based on those recordings. I met John Stevens while I was there. We discussed the possibility of my coming back. I went back home and the following year, I went with the intention of if I could get any work, to stay. Trevor Watts, the British saxophone player and John Stevens, the drummer and Kent Carter, who was an ex-patriot and had been working in France with Steve Lacy and others, was in England at the time too. But he joined the band and we got busy for a while. We weren't making a lot of money, but we were working a lot. We would play in England and we would get a boat to Amsterdam and we worked in France and Germany and Holland and in Belgium. They were funky little gigs, but we would do two, three, four a night. I was making the same thing that I was making here as a teacher. We were traveling in this big van and the guy who was managing us and taking care of all the details was Martin Davidson, who started Emanem during that period. In fact, I probably made one of his earliest records. In fact, I started living with him. He had
a big house that he had inherited from his parents, who were both deceased and he invited me to stay at his place. I think they had five bedrooms and there was nobody but him and his wife. So I stayed with him for a long time. I found myself not making enough money to pay the bills that I had back home, which meant contributing to the welfare of my kids. Even though, by that time, my first wife and I were divorced or were in divorce proceedings, I was still supporting my kids. I was doing that for a while and when that got kind of thin after ten months or so, I came back home and started teaching again. And John Carter and I sort of picked up where we had left off. But while I was away, that is the period that John Carter decided to put up all the instruments except the clarinet. On our first records, he was playing alto saxophone, tenor, flute, and he decided to focus on just the clarinet. When I came back that summer of '72 or '73, he had been devoting all his time exclusively to the clarinet. He was making some long range plans about doing some octet music, which had been a serious concern for him, composition for an ensemble like the one that he finally put together.

FJ: That mirrors the period that you started playing cornet exclusively on albums as well.

BOBBY BRADFORD: Yeah, actually. When I was a kid, I started on the cornet in high school. Then I got a trumpet and I played the trumpet. When I was in New York and playing with Ornette, I was playing the trumpet. When I went to England, the first time, I was playing the trumpet. But when I went back to stay, I happened to be in the music store one day with Trevor Watts and he was looking for a new alto and the guy was just putting up the new line of Yamaha instruments in the store. I asked, "What are those?" And he said, "They are Yamahas." At that point, all I knew about Yamahas were that they were real cheap, low grade instruments. That is what I thought, which they had been for years. He said to try one and I took the cornet into the trial room. I played it about ten minutes and I came out and told this guy, "What will you give me trade in for my trumpet right now?" The horn was so responsive. Everything was good about it.

FJ: How many horns have you gone through?

BOBBY BRADFORD: Actually, the one I am playing now is the second one to that one. I just wore that one out. I finally got to the point where my hand was wearing into the brass. I had it overhauled once. I played it for about fifteen, sixteen years.

FJ: The trumpet and by virtue, the cornet, is a notoriously difficult instrument to maintain your chops.

BOBBY BRADFORD: Yeah, physicality. Yeah, it is a real physical instrument. There is no way, no matter how hard you practice that you will play at age sixty like you played when you were twenty-five.

FJ: So how do you compensate?

BOBBY BRADFORD: What you do is you have to figure out a way now to be as musical as you can within your limitations. In other words, when you hit sixty, you may have even better ideas than you had when you were twenty-five, but number one, you don't have the lung capacity that you had when you were twenty-five. Even if you are a health nut, you cannot intake as much air as you did before. Your lungs just aren't what they used to be no matter how good a life you live and I am not a smoker. What you have to do then is make sure you don't rely on a lot of acrobatics as you get older. I don't get up there and play screaming, high notes the first ten minutes and knock out my stamina. Lots of guys get to a point where they can hardly play at all. There are exceptions, Doc Severinsen for example. I heard him recently and he sounds, as best I could tell, as good as he did twenty-five years ago. I talked to him and he said he practiced four or five hours a day, everyday. That is a full time job for him. That is all he does everyday. Dizzy playing well up to late in his life, but he wasn't playing like he was when he was twenty-five. Nobody does. Saxophone players often can. Joe Henderson, shortly before he died, I think he was better than ever. I think Joe Henderson was at the peak of his format age fifty-eight, fifty-nine. The trumpet is an instrument that requires huge lung power and stamina. You play with that in mind, but that doesn't mean you can't be just as musical, but you certainly cannot be so gymnastic or acrobatic in your playing.

FJ: Give me some insights into John Carter.

BOBBY BRADFORD: Well, first of all, here is a guy who people don't seem to understand, John was a tremendously well trained musician, just in terms of his training and theory and harmony and musicianship. He played the clarinet from childhood, so it wasn't like a lot of guys who pick up the clarinet and sort of fool around with it. A lot of people say that they play the clarinet, but they get it out and sort of noodle around. That was his primary instrument. The saxophones and the flute that he was playing were secondary for him. He was primarily a clarinet player. That was what he wanted to play, but for the longest time, the clarinet was on a decline in jazz. It still is in a way. Ask somebody to name five jazz clarinet players and people will have problems getting past Eddie Daniels or that bald headed guy from New Orleans.

FJ: Pete Fountain.

BOBBY BRADFORD: Yeah, and that is far as they know about jazz clarinet. People never heard of Don Byron. It is a dark horse, but he is a terrific clarinet player. Besides what he did in jazz, he could play what people call "legit clarinet." I heard John play with an orchestra once, the Mozart Clarinet Concerto and you are talking about a razor. He was really good. He had studied serious composition in graduate school and as an undergrad too. As a composer, John would get up very business like and he wrote music everyday. Even if it was something that he was going to throw out later, he had a regime that he followed. I was unlike that and I tend to be erratic about composition and wait for inspiration and he got up everyday and sat down and composed. He would just write music, like Duke Ellington in a way, and write music everyday.

FJ: Clarinet players who have followed from Ken Vandermark, Marty Ehrlich, Vinny Golia, to François Houle, all credit Carter as an influential figure.

BOBBY BRADFORD: Oh yeah, clarinet players, as soon as they hear John Carter on a recording, I never fail to hear people say, "God, this guy is a really good clarinet player." Often in jazz, you find people who know the music, who know jazz, but clarinet is not an instrument that you can take lightly. The saxophone is a lot easier to play than clarinet. I am talking about just the nuts and bolts and buttons. The fingering is totally different. It is a totally different instrument. You can take a clarinet player and give them a saxophone and they will pick it up in ten minutes. You say to a saxophone player, "Here is a clarinet. Play that," and it is no good. It doesn't work in reverse. Even though he was doing those squeaks and squalls and all that noisy stuff that the clarinet makes, I think he decided that he would going to take advantage of all the nasty things that the clarinet would do and exploit them in addition to the beautiful things. He liked to play all those "horrible" noises that people associated with the clarinet. They were all totally under control. They were not accidents.

FJ: Roberto Miranda once told me that your Mo'tet was called the Mo'tet because there is always room for one more.

BOBBY BRADFORD: That's right. What happened about that was people would often say to me when they wanted to hire me and club owners and booking agents are always working with budgetary constraints and they would ask what kind of size group I could bring and I would always say, "The mo' money you have, the mo'tet you get." I used to joke about that and it finally became something where I wanted it to be in print. The first recording with the Mo'tet was called Lost in L.A. and that had Roberto Miranda on it and Mark Dresser on bass and James Kousakis, a saxophone player who lives in the Pasadena area, and Sherman Ferguson on drums. That was the first Mo'tet album. That was in the early Eighties, but actually we had started playing in '83 as a unit to call ourselves that. And I have kept the band together as best I can since then with some additions and some changes. Sometimes Vinny Golia plays sax with me or sometimes Chuck Manning, depending on who's available. Both are great players and both are empathetic to my music.

FJ: And your latest recording, Live at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art features the Mo'tet.

BOBBY BRADFORD: It was a live recording from LA County Museum and when I got home and listened to the tapes, I had thought about taking these guys into the studio and the recording was good enough for a CD. This was done two weeks ago, so it is hot off the press. I have some in the stores at Amoeba and Poo-Bah and Rhino. I am just going to sell to stores myself and sell these at my gigs.

FJ: If like John Carter and Horace Tapscott, the appreciation for your music comes posthumously, no regrets?

BOBBY BRADFORD: No, I don't have any problem with that. I like people liking my music. I love to play for people who do like what I am doing. But that is last thing I worry about, did I make my mark and stuff like that. That is not what I got into music for. I was smitten by the love for jazz when I was a thirteen-year-old listening to Charlie Parker and Fats Navarro and Dexter Gordon. All I ever wanted to do down deep was learn how to play the music because I figured that there was always the possibility that I might have to make a living doing something else. It was clear that not everybody who played jazz could make a living at it. I never thought about jazz as a way to get famous or to get rich. I've made some really hard decisions in my life about my career, but there is no ambivalence whatsoever about the choices I've made about leaving New York. My family comes before anything else. This is where I will be.

Fred Jung is the Editor-In-Chief and is Wang Chunging tonight. Comments? Email Him