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 Tuesday, 01 December 2015
Bob Brookmeyer, 1929-2011 PDF Print
Written by Andrea Canter, Contributing Editor   
Monday, 19 December 2011

Bob Brookmeyer©Bent Poulson

“Bob’s ingenuity, his ideas about minimizing materials and developing a sense for form, and the wonderful spirit and drama of his music opened a new world.”  --Maria Schneider

“Many times I feel like improvisation is a little self-centred, and a little more fun for the musicians than the audience. [Brookmeyer] was probably the most important person who basically said there doesn’t have to be improvisation, and if there is improvisation it has to come at the right moment and for the right reasons.” –John Holenback


Innovative composer, arranger, improviser, conductor, educator and trombonist Bob Brookmeyer died on December 15 in New London, NH at age 81. As a performer, Brookmeyer was known for his skills on the unusual valve trombone, but he made his most significant contributions to music by expanding the concepts of jazz composition, particularly for big bands, and bringing his ideas into the classroom where he taught and mentored some of today’s most innovative composers and bandleaders, including Maria Schneider, John Hollenback, and Darcy James Argue.

Bob Brookmeyer©Wolfgang Gonaus
A native of Kansas City, MO, Bob Brookmeyer attended the Kansas City Conservatory of Music. Relocating to New York, he began working as freelance arranger and studio musician, playing with Coleman Hawkins, PeeWee Russell, Ben Webster, Charles Mingus and Teddy Charles. He began a 15-year association with Stan Getz in the early 50s, and in 1954 replaced Chet Baker in the Gerry Mulligan Quartet. He also spent a year with the famed Jimmy Giuffre Three, introducing free improvisation as a standard part of jazz performance, and recorded with Bill Evans and George Russell. In the 1960s, he co-led a quintet with Clark Terry and performed and composed for the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra. After touring in a duo with Jim Hall, Brookmeyer moved to Europe where he worked extensively as a composer and conductor. He also continued associations in the U.S., including teaching at the Manhattan School of Music. In 1991, he moved to Holland and began a short-lived school for improvised music. Soon he returned to the U.S., assuming duties as Chair of Jazz Composition at the New England Conservatory of Music.

While in Europe, Brookmeyer initiated what became the New Art Orchestra, and 18-piece ensemble which earned a Grammy nomination in 2005 for its ArtistShare project Spirit Music. Bob continued writing for the New Art Orchestra and mentoring young musicians at NEC until his death. He recorded over 30 albums as leader, including his final release from 2011, Standards, with the New Art Orchestra and vocalist Fay Classen. An NEA Jazz Master, he received four Grammy nominations over his career.

“I've loved Bob's compositions and arrangements and his playing since the moment I first heard his music in the '70s,” said composer Maria Schneider.  “It turned my life around.  Bob became a wonderful teacher, mentor and dear friend.  And he was enormously generous to those lucky enough to be his friend.”

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