Saturday, April 27, 2013

Bob Brozman (1954-2013)

I didn't really think about this when I conceived this blog, but I guess this is a place for obituaries as well. It's generally not a good sign when a bunch of recordings of a relatively esoteric musician suddenly start showing up on concert download sites, and it was just such an occurrence that today led me to the discovery that one of my generation's most innovative and audacious instrumentalists, Santa Cruz County's Bob Brozman, had passed away last Thursday, April 26. I can claim Brozman as my generation with aplomb, as he was a few months my junior, having been born in March of 1954.

I first became aware of Brozman's considerable talents when he was honing his crafts as a street musician on Santa Cruz's Pacific Garden Mall in the mid-1970s. He would always attract a crowd with his snappy patter and, more to the point, his dazzling musicianship, generally on various versions of slide guitar. Those days were truly the golden age of Santa Cruz street performers, as one could regularly catch Brozman, the amazing saw player Tom Scribner, or then-fledgling juggling ensemble the Flying Karamozov Brothers doing their acts along Pacific Avenue. However, Brozman's vision extended far beyond the streets of Santa Cruz, and he began his career as a recording artist with the 1981 release Blue Hula Stomp. Brozman's early repertoire focused on acoustic blues and ragtime, with frequent forays into Hawaiian music.

After releasing a series of basically solo projects in the 1980s, he began a lifelong career of collaborating with musicians from diverse cultures, starting with Hawaiian musicians like Led Kaapana, Cyril Pahuini, and legendary guitarist Tau Moe, whom Brozman coaxed out of retirement for a couple of late 1980s releases. Later he worked with musicians from Australia, La Reunion Island, Papua New Guinea, Okinawa, and toured and recorded with Indian slide guitar master Debashish Bhattacharya. He also collaborated with American musical giants such as Woody Mann, Mike Auldridge, and David Grisman.

A prodigious collector of vintage records, Brozman also published extensively on musical subjects, most notably in his definitive history of National guitars, with whom he also designed a tritone baritone guitar.  Brozman recorded a number of instructional videos for Homespun Music, and also scored a number of films.

I had the opportunity to interview Brozman by phone in 1999 for Dirty Linen and again in 2008 for Sing Out! on the occasion of the release of Lumeire, his bold experiment in creating a guitar orchestra through multiple overdubs. Brozman was a great interview subject - witty, intelligent, curious, and with a deep knowledge of musical traditions and cultures of the globe. Only a few artists have made significant artistic contributions to as many parts of the globe as Brozman, whose global vision and fearless spirit of collaboration did much to bridge multiple cultures.

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