Brookmeyer, Bob (Robert Edward), 1929-2011
- Existence: December 19, 1929 - December 15, 2011
Robert “Bob” Brookmeyer enjoyed a long, distinguished career in music as a composer, arranger, multi-instrumentalist and educator. Born December 19, 1929, in Kansas City, Missouri, he was inspired by the unique jazz style of his hometown, noting a 1941 performance by Count Basie at the Tower Theater as a life-changing event. While his affinity for big bands was to be his calling card, Brookmeyer was also intrigued by the musical language of bebop, transcribing by ear early recordings of Charlie Parker, who had left Kansas City for New York in the early 1940s. Brookmeyer studied piano and composition at the Kansas City Conservatory (which became part of what is now the University of Missouri-Kansas City), winning the Carl Busch Award for Choral Composition. In 1986 Brookmeyer received the UMKC Conservatory Alumni Award, and in 1991 earned an honorary doctorate in music from UMKC.
Moving to New York in the early 1950s, Brookmeyer’s early professional credits include time with the big bands of Tex Beneke, Ray McKinley and Claude Thornhill, as well as freelance work with Coleman Hawkins, Pee Wee Russell, Ben Webster, Charles Mingus and Teddy Charles. By this time Brookmeyer had begun playing valve trombone, coming to prominence with Stan Getz, with whom he performed at the Paris Jazz Festival in 1953. A year later, he replaced Chet Baker in Gerry Mulligan’s west-coast-style “pianoless” quartet, playing an integral role in Mulligan’s quartet and sextet groups and the Concert Jazz Band, the latter with which Brookmeyer toured in 1960. In between stints with Mulligan, Brookmeyer joined the Jimmy Giuffre Three, which included guitarist Jim Hall; freelanced as a musician, composer and arranger; and recorded one of his most acclaimed albums, Traditionalism Revisited, in 1957. Other notable recordings during this time include The Ivory Hunters, a two-piano collaboration with Bill Evans, and George Russell’s New York, New York.
In 1961 he and trumpeter Clark Terry began a five-year association co-leading a popular and critically well-received quintet. Brookmeyer was a charter member of the famed Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra in 1965, dividing his chores between arranging and playing, and finding steady work as a band member in the Mort Lindsay Band on television’s Merv Griffin Show.
Brookmeyer left New York in 1968 to resettle in southern California. For the next decade he did some studio work, but was relatively inactive as a jazz musician. He came out of retirement in 1978 with a new album, Back Again, returned to New York, and in 1979 began a long-term relationship as composer, arranger and musical director of the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Brookmeyer released some small group recordings and played festival reunions with Mulligan and Terry.
By the early 1980s, Brookmeyer was teaching at the Manhattan School of Music and working more and more in Europe. During a stay in Europe he was invited to initiate a jazz project at the famed Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival, which in turn became the beginnings of his New Art Orchestra, an 18-piece group that would serve as his composition voice. Brookmeyer has dozens of albums to his credit, both as leader and sideman. He was nominated for a Grammy 8 times and a grant recipient for composition from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Brookmeyer continued to write and record in addition to mentoring young composers and performers from the New England Conservatory, where he taught from 1997 to 2007. Brookmeyer died December 15, 2011, in New London, New Hampshire.
Bio/About page. Bob Brookmeyer website. Accessed 26 January 2009. http://www.bobbrookmeyer.com/about.aspx.
Ratliff, Ben. “Bob Brookmeyer: Raging and Composing Against the Jazz Machine.” New York Times. May 12, 2006. Accessed 26 January 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/12/arts/music/12broo.html.