As Trombonist, Norman “Jeff” Bradshaw has already worked with the likes of Jill Scott, Jay Z, Kirk Franklin, Earth, Wind & Fire, and more, and he continues to blend his stellar trombone-playing talents with the sweet voices of many others on his upcoming live album Home, due out March 31 on Shanachie Entertainment.
Bradshaw curated the album, which was recorded live on May 28, 2014 at The Kimmel Center in his hometown of Philadelphia, along with friend and fellow jazz musician/pianist Robert Glasper. The idea was to bring the crème-de-la-crème of singers and players to The Kimmel for a genre-crossing one-night-only musical event that would replicate the excitement of the classic R&B revues for this generation of fans.
He asked his favorite artists like Kim Burrell, Take 6, Marsha Ambrosius, Bilal, Will Downing, Black Thought of The Roots, Kenny Lattimore, Trombone Shorty, and more to be a part of the electric performance that night. For the single “All Time Love”, the Philly-based musician enlisted Tweet, Eric Roberson and Robert Glasper for some down-home, feel good groove, and the entire live album feels like that from start to finish.
Bradshaw spoke with Singersroom about the historic concert that took place last year, which has become his forthcoming album, Home. He also dished about how he began playing the trombone, his upbringing, and hobbies. Also check out Jeff Bradshaw's social pages on Twitter and Facebook.
How did you get started playing the trombone?
I gravitated towards the instrument because my father played it. I was raised in a church called United House of Prayer for All People, and I was surrounded by gospel brass bands; we would always listen to James Brown. Anything my father did, I had to do it. He was the person who made me lean towards an instrument.
Do you give trombone lessons?
Yeah, I give lessons now and then, not often, but I do about five or six master classes a year throughout my tour schedule.
Who are your heroes/inspirations musically or otherwise?
As far as bone players, I would have to go back to the legends like J.J. Johnson, Slide Hampton, Curtis Fuller. My idol is Fred Wesley, he was the end all be all on trombone for me because he combined jazz, funk and soul playing all in one instrument and played it like no other. Outside of my father, I’d say Fred Wesley is my number one inspiration on the instrument.
Do you read music, play by ear, or both?
A little bit of reading, but I was self-taught. I do take lessons just to stay sharp just in case I run into a situation where I have to, but mostly I’m self-taught.
How did you and Robert Glasper come up with the idea to have this amazing concert, which ultimately led to your upcoming album, Home?
Robert Glasper is a very good friend of mine for many years; he’s the executive producer of the album. We just got together and talked about doing something historic and live in Philadelphia, because people always talked about loving my music on records, but when they heard me live, they really GOT it. So, we wanted to put together a live album, and Robert, he was the architect of this record. We handpicked artists that are favorites of mine, artists that I’m fans of, and we put this masterpiece together.
For those who’ve never seen your live shows, what can they expect to see at your live performances?
A lot of times you can’t hear the personality of an artist, you can’t see them move, you can’t see their facial expressions, you can’t see or feel music on a CD like you can in a big arena or live venue. That’s why so many great artists of the past put together live albums, because that brings the music and the concert experience into everyone’s home and car. So, that’s why it was necessary.
There are so many amazing collaborations under one roof at the The Kimmel Center performance. This may be a hard question, but what was your most memorable moment on stage with all those amazing performers?
There were a couple, cause there were several artists that I’m fans of that was on the stage with me, but if I had to break it down to one moment, it was when I asked the lighting director turn up the lights in the house to see this incredible, sacred symphony hall filled. After playing the small clubs in Philly and small venues for many years, when I asked them to turn up the lights and I see all four balconies and this entire symphony hall packed with Philly fans, that was the moment I remember most.
I've heard the album and there's definitely some good vibes on there! How much of it was rehearsed, and how much of the concert was impromptu magic?
The whole concert was rehearsed, we practiced for seven days. And the artists came in the day before the recording and did a run-through, cause each artist did a song, except for Take 6, they did two songs. But once you record and rehearse, once you get on stage, magic happens, and that’s what happened that night, and that’s why I wanted to make sure I recorded it to make an album, to give people who weren’t there the opportunity to feel the energy and the magic of that night.
You’ve played with Jill Scott to Jay Z and Erykah Badu to Kirk Franklin. Do you have any interesting stories from any of those experiences?
Being there and touring with Jill Scott in the beginning was everything because I toured with Jill for like 13 years, so I was there from the beginning, But I used to also play with Jill when she was on the poetry scene. Touring with Kirk Franklin was fun, I’ve always been a fan of his, being a church boy my whole life. But touring with Jay Z, seeing that side of things, flying on private jets, touring Europe with Jay, but also touring with The Roots. I can’t say that there’s one single moment touring with these artists, um, recording with Michael Jackson was obviously one of the pinnacles of my career. Recording with Earth, Wind & Fire was great because I got the chance to record a song that Floetry was featured on in the studio with Philip Bailey, Verdine White, and Maurice White, and to be a horn player, recording horn parts on an Earth, Wind & Fire song, looking through the glass at Maurice White, you know (laughs)…
Sort of like a bucket-list kinda thing…
Yeah, yeah, it was crazy.
Do you think musicianship in R&B has a good chance of returning?
I don’t think it had left. When you talk about musicianship, as long as you have artists like Jill Scott, Maxwell, Sade, Charlie Wilson, Frankie Beverly & Maze, Joe, Ledisi, Avery Sunshine, Mary J. Blige, John Legend, you still have great artists that are well-versed that still keep live musicianship alive. Yes, there’s an onslaught of here today-gone tomorrow, I call them “single artists,” artists who come out and you only know them for their one song, but you still have your D’Angelos, your Anthony Hamiltons and your Chrisette Micheles, artists who still make great albums, albums you can listen to from top to bottom. And that’s what I wanted to put together, Robert Glasper and I, that’s what we designed, an album of great artists and music that can be enjoyed from top to bottom. Even though I have a great single with Robert Glasper, Eric Roberson and Tweet [“All Time Love”] and a great video with them, when you go into this album, and you hear the album, it’s just a great record.
What do you do in your spare time?
I spend time with my children, I have four children. Bianca, who lives in San Diego, Amaya, who lives in Atlanta, and Kayla lives here in Philadelphia, and I have partial custody of my six year old son Madison, my little mini-me. I spend time with my children, I’m a cigar smoker, and I play golf. I have a very simple life, my life is music; family, music, cigars and golf.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a musician?
I would probably be a custom tailor, cause I love to wear really nice clothes. Look at any picture of me anywhere, I like to dress, I like to dress grown-man, I love high fashion. So, I probably would be a custom tailor or clothing designer.
Who’s your favorite designer?
For shoes? My favorite shoes in my closet are Gucci. Clothing, it doesn’t matter, it all depends on something custom tailored, it might be Tom Ford, it might be Giorgio Armani, it all depends on the cut or how I’m feeling.
Just as long as you’re sharp, that’s all that matters.
What advice would you give a young musician with aspirations of a music career?
I think a lost art when it comes to young musicians is a lot of them don't practice hours a day, that’s always the first advice you give them. Spend more time practicing than you do in your leisure time, cause if it’s something you want to do for the rest of your life, you need to be prepared. Listen to music, not just your favorite type of music, but music everyone else listens to because it will broaden your horizons; rock, soul, blues, country, jazz, classic R&B. All that broadens your horizons. Also, I would say social skills and being dependable. Cause a lot of times, a person a producer likes will get the gig before a person who’s ten times better than you because they like you, because you’re a good person, and you know how to hold a conversation and are well cultured; you’re not a jerk. Nobody likes a know-it-all. I’ve been in the circles of conversations with millionaires and legends, like Robert Townsend, Laila Ali, Denzel Washington, Jill Scott, and you just wanna hold a conversation and have something to add, but sometimes it’s great to listen. I’m a sponge, I'm around people who are well versed on a lot of things, you ask questions, and then you know. When you’re in a room with great people, learn how to listen, be humble, practice integrity and humility. It goes a long way.