Valve trombonist and composer Bob Brookmeyer has died. He passed away on Thursday 15 December at the age of 81. Best known for his work with Gerry Mulligan, Stan Getz and with the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis big band, he leaves a large discography both as leader and sideman and a strong reputation as both a large ensemble composer and distinguished educator.
Brookmeyer died just three days short of his 82nd birthday and had released the album Standards just weeks before he passed away.
The Kansas City born musician in 1941 got the jazz bug as a young boy hearing the Basie Band in his home town and after experimenting with different instruments as a child took up the trombone learning marches, and beginning to write music himself. He wrote for local dance bands while still a teenager and began to compose inspired by classical music. He attended the Kansas City Conservatory and played piano with Orrin Tucker's band and in Chicago jammed with the likes of Lou Levy but turned down offers to join different bands instead signing up for military service in Columbia, South Carolina before on demob joining Tex Beneke, with whom he playing piano.
Lester Young, Al Cohn, and Woody Herman trombonist Bill Harris were influential on him at this stage of his career. But with Howard McGhee’s sextet, whose number also featured Charlie Rouse and Elmo Hope, and with Teddy Charles and Mingus he experimented freer improvisational styles and then with Claude Thornhill in late-1952 he played the less heard valve trombone as well as playing piano. During this time he performed at a rehearsal when Charlie Parker featured with strings while still with Thornhill deputising for Walter Bishop but later would leave Thornhill to join Stan Getz who he would record with and tour.
Brookmeyer in January 1954 with Gerry Mulligan formed a quartet touring for half a year until he went back to play with Stan Getz before going back to Mulligan once more, and later in 1958 joining the Jimmy Giuffre 3 with Jim Hall.
With Mulligan as the 1960s dawned they formed the Concert Jazz Band which lasted for some four years and after this he worked with Clark Terry until late in the decade and featured as a soloist with the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis big band at the Village Vanguard.
He moved to Los Angeles for studio work but alcoholism held him back although he returned to playing seriously again after rehab and toured with Stan Getz once more in the late-1970s.
Brookmeyer began teaching graduate students at the Manhattan School of Music and directed a Composers Workshop in the late-1980s before moving to live in the Netherlands basing himself in Rotterdam. Later back in the States he began a long asssociation teaching at the New England Conservatory in Boston. In the UK Brookmeyer played at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival in 2007 as artist in residence guesting with the BBC Big Band, performing with Hans Koller’s Octet and leading his own quartet. He had also worked with the BBC Big Band a decade earlier just a few years after starting his New Art Orchestra.
– Stephen Graham