Preview: Alan Broadbent at Auckland Town Hall

By Graham Reid

Who: Grammy-winning pianist/arranger Alan Broadbent, with Frank Gibson (drums) and Tom Dennison (bass)
Where: Auckland Town Hall Concert Chamber, February 12, 8pm
Also: with Diana Krall, Villa Maria Estate, Mangere, February 20

Alan Broadbent is back home for concerts. Photo / Scott Mitchell
Alan Broadbent is back home for concerts. Photo / Scott Mitchell

The last time Auckland-born, Los Angeles-based pianist and orchestral arranger Alan Broadbent was in New Zealand, in September 2008, he was awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit.

That honour was another in an increasingly long list which includes two Grammy wins (out of seven nominations) and a Downbeat magazine award for best arranger.

"Yes, 'for services to jazz'. I gave my life to jazz," he says. "But that was a great honour, and a good feeling because my son and wife were there."

Broadbent returns to New Zealand soon in two capacities: as the conductor/arranger for singer Diana Krall at three concerts around the country, but just as importantly as a jazz pianist playing the Auckland Town Hall Concert Chamber with drummer Frank Gibson and bassist Tom Dennison.

Broadbent and Gibson go so far back neither would put a date on it, but their most recent recording Together Again (with LA bassist Putter Smith) is a finalist in the jazz category for the 2009 music awards, the winner to be announced later this month.

This refined trio outing is some distance from the album Broadbent most recently appeared on, Barbra Streisand's Love is the Answer on which he was pianist on five tracks and wrote an arrangement of Rod McKuen's If You Go Away.

"Johnny Mandel did most of the arrangements, but that one turned out beautifully. Barbra loved it and we had a great time," he says.

"It was through Diana I got the work and Barbra tended to want to finish everything with big orchestra chords. But we did a couple of tunes that were breathtaking.

"She wasn't belting things out, she just got a feeling. I was terribly moved by it. I went in with a certain amount of trepidation but had a wonderful musical experience."

After he goes home from the Krall concerts and the trio appearance, he will again team up with Quartet West, the acclaimed jazz group lead by bassist Charlie Haden, for another US tour and an album.

"We haven't recorded in seven years since The Art of the Song soundtrack, other than a live album, but Charlie has an idea which involves some European singers to boost whatever CD sales are possible these days," he says.

"But really, that whole [CD] industry has tanked."

Broadbent has been in jazz, a music which has always struggled for attention and market share, for so long there is a tone of resignation in his observations. He came into arranging at the end of the golden era - he was Nelson Riddle's pianist for 10 years and worked with Henry Mancini and Quincy Jones - but the days of a singer touring or recording with a full orchestra are long gone.

The classical world is much better served, he says.

"Classical musicians have an infrastructure which supports them, be it funding from government or from grants. But [jazz] artists are relegated, unless you are very famous, to playing at the London Bar," he says referring to the Auckland hotel which had regular jazz up until last year.

"Now you can't even do that because it doesn't exist," he says. "So jazz is like it has always been. But there are players who have to do it because they can't help it. I'm one of those."

He plays certain clubs in Los Angeles but "pianos in most are impossible to play on. If I can't stretch myself on a beautiful instrument I can't bring myself to do it".

"I remember the controversy when I was 14 when Dave Brubeck came to the Auckland Town Hall and they gave him the old piano," he says. "They didn't want jazz musicians on their lovely Steinway or whatever it was. Dave got the second-hand piano, and I'm sure Thelonious Monk did too when I heard him there when I was 17 or 18.

"But, they have a lovely Steinway waiting for me. And I love the town hall, it is a national treasure."

As is Alan Broadbent, MNZOM, and even though there have been lean years he never considered giving up playing jazz.

"Since I got my first gig I've never ever felt that way, even on my worst day. And it's too late now," he says.

"My Mum and Dad felt when they let me come to Boston [on a Downbeat scholarship in the mid 60s] that I could always come back and work at the Maple Furnishing company as a signwriter.

"But I couldn't even do that, it's now a parking lot. It really is like a priesthood, it's a calling."

- NZ Herald

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