*Once upon a time R&B was known for great live performances marked by passion, spontaneity and even transcendence through the great soul revues at such storied venues as The Apollo Theater, The Howard Theater and The Uptown.
The musicians playing behind the singers were often the finest players from the realms of R&B jazz and gospel, who delivered intricate arrangements, electrifying solos and undeniable groove. In recent times, such performances have been rare but the hunger for that special sort of musical experience is still there and maybe it just takes someone with great determination and vision to bring it back.
Jeff Bradshaw, a key player in Philadelphia’s influential neo-soul scene is the man with such vision. As a boy in Philadelphia Bradshaw performed with brass bands on Broad Street, just a stone’s throw from the spot where Philadelphia¹s most prestigious performing arts center, The Kimmel Center, stands today; he dreamed: why not bring the crème-de-la-crème of singers and players to The Kimmel for a genre-crossing one-night-only musical event that would replicate the excitement of the classic R&B revues for this generation of fans? Since Bradshaw’s trombone has propelled horn-sections for everyone from Jill Scott to Jay Z and Erykah Badu to Kirk Franklin, this was an easy sell.
The respect accorded Jeff Bradshaw by his peers is shown by the impressive list of artists who wanted to be a part of the concert: Marsha Ambrosius, Will Downing, Black Thought of The Roots, Kim Burrell, Take 6, Najee, Bilal, Eric Roberson, Tweet, Kenny Lattimore, Trombone Shorty and Executive Producer and Grammy-winning pianist Robert Glasper, whose recent black radio albums have been innovative fusions of jazz and R&B, becoming some of the biggest-selling jazz releases of the past decade–ironically scoring big with a concept Jeff Bradshaw had been presenting for years. Bradshaw’s Kimmel Center dream came to fruition on May 28, 2014 and the result was a sold-out success in front of a rapturous, wildly appreciative audience.
“Over my 14 year career as a solo artist and sideman to the biggest in the biz,” Bradshaw relates, “I was always told: ‘I love your music but when I heard you live I really understand how special you are as an artist and performer.’ So I reached out to all my friends, who just happen to be great artists that I’m fans of and explained to them the trail-blazing journey I was preparing to embark on and they all wanted in.
After running the idea by Jay Whal, The Kimmel Center’s Creative Director, where I¹ve played many times in their ‘Sittin’ In’ series, he loved the idea and we went to work on building this masterpiece.” Nothing was left to chance for Bradshaw’s special concert. He assembled a magnificent 20-piece band complete with backing singers and horn section to back his stellar line-up of singers. Together Bradshaw and Glasper masterminded sophisticated arrangements that would embellish the songs to their ultimate potential.
“Home” delivers one highlight after another. On the first single, “All Time Love,” Eric Roberson and Tweet trade off one another with sexy, soulful vocals as Robert Glasper plays a lush keyboard support. Bradshaw and New Orleans trombone phenom Trombone Shorty trade incendiary solos on the funky “N. O. Groove.” Kim Burrell, who comes from the gospel world, is nonetheless one of the finest jazz singers of our time and she demonstrates that by taking flight in a 9-minute dialogue with Bradshaw on “Love.”
“Kim Burrell, the most innovative voices on the planet, touched down in Philly and the Kimmel Center and pulled things out of a Philly Neo-Soul classic that can never be duplicated by anyone!” Jeff enthuses. “Our performance together brought tears to everyone with a pulse in that building.” “Home” also highlights the sublime acapella jazz harmony singing of ten-time Grammy winners Take 6, the masterful playing of sax icon Najee and vocal performances by Bilal and Marsha Ambrosius that are among their best performances.
“No one else could have written and delivered that amazing, touching song but my amazing friend Marsha,” Jeff says. “We did this song several years ago in the studio, but it wasn’t ’til now that we agreed that the world should hear this song that she wrote on a tear-soaked napkin.”
Jeff Bradshaw was born in North Philadelphia. His father was a minister so his formative musical experiences were in church, where brass bands were a staple. Jeff amazingly never took formal lessons. The first instrument he began playing was the snare drum. Following that he began playing baritone horn and sousaphone.
He recalls one life-changing day in high school when everyone was asked to stand in front of the instrument they would like to play. Students crowded around the drums, guitars, saxophones, trumpets, percussion and woodwinds, but not one person was standing near the stack of trombones in the corner. He choose to play trombone and became determined to make the trombone hip, a cool instrument in mainstream music, not just jazz.
After graduation from high school, finances did not permit him to enroll in college so he took a variety of jobs, waiting and hoping for an opportunity to make his mark in music, an opportunity that did not come for seven long years. In 1994, Bradshaw began to meet musicians, singers and producers on the Philly scene he went on to become an architect of the neo-soul revolution along with Ahmir ‘?uestlove’ Thompson, Tariq ‘Black Thought’ Trotter of the Roots, James Poyser, Andre Harris, Vidal Davis, DJ Jazzy Jeff, King Britt, Ivan Barias, Carvin Haggins, and many others.
These friendships led to Bradshaw recording with the likes of Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Floetry, Darius Rucker, Michael Jackson, Earth Wind & Fire, The Roots, Musiq Soulchild and more. Then one night, when playing in a band led by trumpeter Jafar Barron, the leader’s absence afforded Bradshaw the opportunity to step forward and lead the hip-hop soul band. He was well on the way to achieving his goal of making the trombone ‘cool’ again.
A few years later, Bradshaw was invited by Jill Scott to take part in the recording of her first album and to tour with her after its breakthrough release. This led to a meeting with Hidden Beach Recordings CEO Steve McKeever, who afforded Jeff the opportunity to record his first album as a leader in 2003, “Bone Deep.” His second album “Bone Apetit“ followed in 2012.
Bradshaw told Mr. McKeever that they could change people’s perception of what a lead instrument in popular music could be. That acclaimed first album led to busy years of touring, with other artists and on his own, as well as session work with a wide array of hip-hop, R & B and jazz artists. In 2013, Bradshaw released his second album, which was released simultaneously as both a single disc and a double CD set.
“I hope that people find this album to be a breath of fresh air,” Bradshaw says. “And that every part of their musical appetite is satisfied. That’s why Robert and I designed the album this way and hand-picked every artist. It’s like opening a menu and seeing all your favorite foods.”
Most recently one of Jeff Bradshaw’s original compositions was featured on the soundtrack of the James Brown biopic “Get on Up.” All of that was simply preparation for “Home,” Jeff Bradshaw’s ultimate musical statement.