Philadelphia trombone player Jeff Bradshaw has been a fixture on the city’s neo-soul, hip-hop and jazz scene for the past 20 years. After backing several artists like Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Michael Jackson, and Earth Wind & Fire over the years he released his first solo album in 2003. As an instrumentalist leader he is rare in the world outside of jazz occupying a space only shared with New Orleans musician Trombone Shorty. His mellifluous phrasing automatically changes the musical environment into a soulful space of rhythm and meditation. This year he made an incredible career stride with the release of his fourth album, Home: One Special Night At Kimmel Center. Bradshaw got together with his friend Robert Glasper and they chose songs, artists and arrangements for the historic evening and the album recording. The outcome is an evenly paced offering of Bradshaw’s R&B/gospel/hip-hop and jazz sensibilities served up by, but not limited to, a range of artists including Black Thought, Marsha Ambrosius, Kim Burrell and Bilal. Bradshaw talked to Kick Mag about the importance of the album, his history withing Philly’s neo soul scene and how he came to be a leader on an instrument that’s always assumed to belong in the background.
There was love and healing and a spiritual move of togetherness in that building and that’s going to resonate when you hear that record
I know that you started playing the trombone in church with your father Norman Bradshaw, how is the church connected to Home?
As a young child I came up in the United House Of Prayer where brass is the focus of the musical ministry. So I was around trombones, trumpets, tubas and drums pretty much for my entire life especially growing-up. My father played trombone and guitar, and he also played trumpet and tuba. I’m kind of like second generation trombone. I was raised around it. I don’t think that’s totally why I chose it but I was definitely raised around it.
How did your church end-up having such a strong brass section? When we usually think of the churches in the north we think about the singing and the organist, your church sounds like New Orleans?
It almost is that way in the United House Of Prayer it was always brass bands from the beginning. I didn’t take it as a New Orleans connection but as something that traditionally happens as the church got bigger it’s like a church in New Orleans but all the way in Philly.
How did you decide to play secular music professionally?
It’s ironic, I was hanging out in a club called City. I was playing in clubs around the city and there was this club called Back To Basics on Monday and DJ King Britt, he was the DJ for Digable Planets, but he was an iconic DJ who was versed in acid jazz, European soul music and American soul music and hot dance music all around the globe. And he had this concept of playing DJ versus live band so he would play and then the live band would pick-up from where he left off and from there to the Black Lily all these groove clubs where there were open mics The Roots were at Black Lily which was an incredible open mic extravaganza. Tuesday night where people could come and we could see everybody from Jill Scott to The Roots, Musiq Soulchild to Jaquar Wright, Jazzyfatnastees, Jazmine Sullivan, Floetry it was an amazing thing and that’s where I hung out. Playing in Jazzy Jeff’s studio, A Touch Of Jazz which is where the Jill Scott album was birthed, where the Floetry album was birthed and where Musiq Soulchild’s album was birthed. And one night we were playing and I never wanted to be solo out front I was playing for a guy named Jafar Barron, a trumpet player and he had this band that played grooves and stuff we called it vibing and that was big in the mid-‘90’s in Philly. And one night he was having a bad night and the owner kind of put him out and the band was kind of like, ‘well, um we’ll play with you.’ So I started playing, leading the band and it wound-up being cool and I liked it and I came-up with some really cool ideas and concepts and that’s how Jeff Bradshaw became an artist at that moment. So I would play the music that influenced me; hip-hop, soul music, neo-soul some hip-hop, jazz that’s how I kind of found my way.