When he left Santa Monica for New York in the fall of 2011, pianist and composer Alan Broadbent wasn’t missing out on many playing opportunities. One night a month at Vibrato wasn’t exactly stoking his pianistic fires. Chalk it up to one of the failures of this city to undervalue his artistic genius. That’s not hyperbole: Broadbent is a supremely lyrical pianist with complete independence of hands, and he swings at any tempo. As an accompanist to singers, there are scarcely any better, if at all. And his string arrangements surround and support a vocalist and fit the voice like a glove.
While he’s occasionally called back to contribute arrangements and orchestrations for recordings, Broadbent’s subsequent visits to Los Angeles have left the town hungry for his piano performances. That’s why his upcoming three-night residence at The Moss Theatre this weekend will make it an important jazz destination. Friday night his trio (of bassist Harvie S and drummer Kendall Kay) will be joined by singer Tierney Sutton, for a night of his arrangements for British singer-songwriter Georgia Mancino. Saturday, Broadbent plays jazz standards with the trio. And the pianist and bassist are joined by guitarist Larry Koonse on Sunday.
Broadbent’s visit is closely preceded by the release of his new album, “New York Notes” (Savant). It’s a reminder that for all of the harmonic beauty in his compositions, piano accompaniment and charts, Broadbent the trio pianist is exciting and hell-bent for swing. In no other working jazz pianist can you hear the intersection of Bud Powell’s velocity and Lennie Tristano’s rhythmic displacement.
The Sutton pairing renews an association that began in 2004. She accompanied Broadbent to his native New Zealand for a tour that showcased his Grammy-winning orchestrations for Natalie Cole’s “Still Unforgettable” album.
Taking a break from her teaching duties at USC’s Thornton School of Music, Sutton says, “What an experience that was. We ended every night with his orchestration of ‘Naima,’ and that just blew everyone away. Then I had to sing his chart for Natalie on ‘Stardust’—with an a capella opening — talk about tough!”
Sutton loved the sublime 1970s duets that Broadbent recorded with the late singer Irene Kral. “That was a big influence on me,” she says. “I was just learning to do harmonic transcriptions when I heard those albums. And I loved what she did on the ‘My Fair Lady’ album that she sang on with Jack Sheldon in 1964. It had Irene, Shelly Manne’s band, great soloists, John Williams arrangements — all the best elements of jazz.”
The soft-spoken Broadbent knows what he wants in music. “I look for songs that are malleable to arrange, where I can change the harmony,” he says, speaking from his New York home. “The best songs exist outside of time. Like ‘My Foolish Heart,’ which was written in the ’30s, isn’t tied to a period; it just is.”
As for his keyboard ideal, Broadbent looks for the pretty notes and the creative forest fires. “The ‘New York Notes’ album was recorded in a garage, but Harvie S and drummer Billy Mintz are such great team players; they make it easy to reach for the best things. It’s like Bud Powell’s solo on ‘’Round Midnight’ on the ‘One Night at Birdland’ album. The sound is terrible, but when Bud comes in for his solo, the clouds just part. That’s what we’re trying for.”
Kirk Silsbee publishes promiscuously on rock, jazz and culture.
Alan Broadbent Trio residency | Jazz Bakery at the Moss Theater | June 14 – 16