David Bromberg Big Band Celebrates his Birthday with Guests, December 4 at The Egg
It’s a complex menu, even to the chef.
Stir spicy musical guests into an already rich big-band banquet.
In other words, into a thick roux, toss some ramma-lamma-ding-dong.
The veteran big- and small-band chef David Bromberg wears the big apron for this feast.
“I was wondering how it would work, myself,” he deadpanned last week from a Rhode Island tour stop, cautiously musing, “I’ve got some suggestions that seem good.”
He then detailed the recipe, a bit…”All of our special guests, we’ll bring them up one or two at a time to do some solo work, and then I’ll take the stage with my big band, then call those guys out one at a time and then there’ll be a big finale.”
Bromberg’s special guests include Larry Campbell, who also leads the Midnight Ramble Band Dec. 1 at The Egg, opening for Hot Tuna.
“It’s completely loose,” Campbell said of Bromberg’s big-band birthday bash on December 4th. “I know he’s gonna do Teresa and I, Jimmy Vivino, John Sebastian, and Andy Falco, a great guitar player who’s worked with David a bunch.”
“He lives on spontaneity,” Campbell said of Bromberg. “So I kinda think we’re all not going to know what we’ll be doing until we get there – just get out there and make it happen.”
Bromberg said, “What they do is up to them. With that group of musicians, it could be virtually anything.”
Asking a big band to follow and frame…well, anything, means a leader has great confidence in his players.
“I do,” said Bromberg simply, adding, “I’ve never had a setlist and they’re all used to me.”
The ingredients for Bromberg’s confidence and how he just makes it happen to include the measles at 13, training with bluesman Rev. Gary Davis, studio work with big stars, a band he famously claims “snuck up on me,” a crisis that took him out of the spotlight and into violin school, then a slow comeback.
“I got the measles and it was a little boring, just being there,” Bromberg recalled. So he borrowed his older brother’s nylon-string guitar. “I could already read music,” he said, from private lessons on recorder, piccolo and flute. “I borrowed some of his guitar books and started teaching myself.”
Bromberg soon found the Rev. Gary Davis, a great gray eminence of the blues, a kind teacher. “He was gentle and extraordinarily patient,” recalled Bromberg. “He would play something and you would try to play it back to him. He would patiently work with you until you got it.”
Bromberg got it well enough to start playing Greenwich Village basket houses. “There were all these musicians running around the Village wanting to play,” said Bromberg. But tight liquor- and cabaret-license laws forced venues to take up collections in bread baskets to pay musicians.
“I was a sideman before I was an artist on my own,” said Bromberg, who honored supporting musicians with a brilliant “Sideman Serenade” album (1989), one of 19 releases; the most recent “Big Road” hit last year.
“I played guitar with Tom Paxton and Jerry Jeff Walker and found myself in the studios,” said Bromberg, “and recorded with some famous people” – including Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, Willie Nelson, Tom Rush, John Prime, Phoebe Snow, the Eagles, Country Joe McDonald, Ravi Shankar, Rory Block, Carly Simon – you get the picture.
“What got me to do it myself is, I ran into a guy who was a great guitar player named Steve Burgh,” Bromberg explained. They’d play and play in Bromberg’s apartment and occasionally Bromberg would sing. One day, Burgh said, “Why don’t you go out on your own and I’ll play bass for you.” Bromberg marveled, “That astounded me because he was such a brilliant guitar player…He was willing to be a bass player for me and that meant something to me.”
From 1972 to 1977, Bromberg released seven albums with an ever-growing band drawn to his wide interests in folk, blues, rock, jazz and world music, and that orbited happily around his formidable skills on all stringed things, Sahara-dry wit and spontaneity.
He has long joked that the band “snuck up on me,” but adding players was actually more organized.
“You ask them to sit in,” Bromberg said. “You play with somebody and you like what they do and you think ‘I’d like to have them here all the time.’”
All the time gradually turned into too much.
“I got burnt out, and I was too stupid to recognize it as burnout,” he said.
“As I told you, I never planned a set: I did whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted to do it.” But then, “I was onstage one time and I didn’t want to do anything – and that was an awful feeling.”
“I’m not who I thought I was,” he realized. “I decided to find another way to live my life.”
Bromberg admitted, “My wife (singer Nancy Josephson) will tell you I put her through hell. I didn’t mean to put anybody through hell, but I was very depressed.”
He seldom performed or recorded new music from 1989 to 2007.
He found another way by hanging out in violin shops, admiring how luthiers knew the instruments. “I went to violin making school and I got my diploma as a violin maker,” he said. “I had a piece of paper, but I was a beginner. “Like music, there’s no bottom to it,” he said. “No one ever learns it all.”
He and Josephson moved to Wilmington, Delaware and opened a shop.
Bromberg said, “I was pretty happy doing that. I really didn’t find myself missing playing a whole lot.”
He’d still play some, informally.
“It was always kind of like a picnic where somebody’s got a softball, a bat and a few gloves, so you all decide to play softball,” said Bromberg. “You have a great time but you don’t think about it again until the next picnic.” Meanwhile, “My technique fell to zero after a while of not playing.”
Then, over lunch, Wilmington Mayor and jazz fan Jim Baker told Bromberg, “There used to be live music all up and down the street that my shop was on and that I lived on and he’d like to see that again.”
So Bromberg launched jam sessions and started playing more. “I was really not in tip-top form,” he admitted. “But I loved them, and kept going for years.”
Before long, “Some very fine musicians started to show up,” said Bromberg. “Some people liked what I had recorded and wanted to play with me,” he said, sounding modestly surprised. “Some people were recording musicians themselves and for some bizarre reason wanted to play with me,” he said.
“I found myself really enjoying playing with fine musicians again,” he said. “And that led to hitting the road.”
Recording and touring less than in the hectic 1970s, Bromberg works with both a quintet and a nine-piece band of strings, horns and voices.
On December 4, Bromberg adds guests to the big band in a celebration of his 76th birthday.
Happy to be among them, Larry Campbell said, “We’re playing with great musicians and great friends,” calling this “just a perfect (human) environment for making music.”
Campbell said, “The Egg is such a great theater to be doing it in.”
“It’ll be fun for us and fun for the audience and it’ll be all about joyous music making for sure.”
The David Bromberg Big Band is Bromberg; guitar, mandolin, and lead vocals; Mark Cosgrove; guitar and mandolin; Nate Grower, fiddle, mandolin, and guitar; Suavek Zaniesienko, bass; Jon-Eric Kellso, trumpet; Birch Johnson, trombone; Matt Koza, tenor saxophone – all but Grower and the horn players sing – plus singers Nancy Josephson, Kathleen Weber and Natalee Smith. Saturday, December 4 at The Egg. 12.4 Saturday – David Bromberg Big Band Birthday Bash – 7:30 pm • $59.50, $49.50, $39.50, $34.50. 518-473-1845 www.theegg.org
The Bromberg Big Band is back for a joy ride through folk, blues, bluegrass, and rock n’ roll all peppered with instrumental virtuosity and David’s singular sense of humor as he celebrates his “Spirit of 76” Birthday Bash concert with some very special guests including: John Sebastian (Lovin’ Spoonful), Jimmy Vivino ( Al Kooper, Fab Faux, Conan O’Brien), Andy Falco (Infamous Stringdusters), Larry Campbell (Bob Dylan Band 1997-2004), and Teresa Williams (Midnight Ramble Band).