Born and reared in New York City, and living in Chicago since 1984, jazz guitarist, composer and educator Bobby Broom says his music draws from American musical forms such as funk, soul, R&B and blues. His Bobby Broom Organi-Sation performs at the PDX Jazz Festival on Friday, March 1.  

Magnus Contzen / courtesy of the artist

What’s in your background that most people don’t know?

Under the auspices of Jazz at Lincoln Center, I was asked to be a part of The Art Blakey Centennial. They were gathering a bunch of alumni from The Messengers, which I’m one. Not many know this because I didn’t stay with the band, but the period in the 1980s, I sat in with the group alongside Wynton Marsalis. We immediately became band members. It’s a little-known fact that I was the first guitarist to be a Messenger.  

What kind of music was around you when you were a kid?

I grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s. The type of radio programming at the time had a breadth of variety and I was introduced to various styles, and eventually to various contexts: country, rock, soul, R&B, blues and jazz. I eventually became enamored with jazz when I was about 14 or 15. I shut off the pop music, and listened and focused exclusively to jazz by collecting records and practicing.    

Do you like to get out on the dance floor and move?

Not really, but I can move. I like to dance to anything that feels good. I certainly dance to jazz when the spirit moves. I was talking to a friend the other day about how the purpose of jazz has changed and how, at one point, it was music for communal purposes and all sorts of social purposes. It’s not the case for the most part nowadays. A lot of modern forms that are current today are hard to figure out the time signatures, let alone to dance to. My mom used to go to functions in Harlem in the late ‘40s and ‘50s where people were still dancing to the music.  

You have a pass to talk to any musician on the Other Side. Whom would you choose?

The first person who comes to mind is Wes Montgomery. He was such a big influence in the way I hear the guitar and what I like about the jazz guitar. I’m glad to be able to see the limited amount of video on him, to hear his voice and his personality. Everyone I know who played with him corroborated that he was a beautiful spirit.  

Are you a different musical artist today than you were when you first began to play?

Yes. Just the process of learning and developing allows for some kind of change. Getting better on the instrument and being clear with what you want to do, and how to do it, has allowed for change in a lot of ways. I’ve been doing this close to 40 years. It becomes more comfortable in time.