Hearing the horns on songs like Michael Jackson’s “Butterflies,” Erykah Badu’s “Other Side of the Game,” or Musiq Soulchild’s “Half Crazy,” you automatically know who is behind the notes that are singing along to the song like a vocal on the track. It’s none other than trombonist Jeff Bradshaw. He has a list of receipts where he has worked with the likes of Jill Scott, Jay Z, Kirk Franklin, Earth, Wind, & Fire, Floetry, Erykah Badu, Patti LaBelle and many others. The trombone virtuoso honed his chops alongside some of the greats and some of the biggest names in the Philly soul movement. Bradshaw’s solo projects highlight his expertise at blending elements of jazz, soul, R&B, and funk into a musical experience. From his 2003 debut, Bone Deep, to 2012’s Bone Appétit Volumes 1 and 2, and 2015’s Home: One Special Night at the Kimmel Center; Jeff Bradshaw is consistent with creating a musically evolved utopia for music lovers.
I had the opportunity to chat with the trombonist about his upcoming tour and why learning about music history is important.
Shameika: Mr. Bradshaw, what does jazz music mean to you?
Jeff Bradshaw: The funny thing about me is that people call me a jazz musician because I’m an instrumentalist. Even though jazz is a sacred true American art form; and I respect it and love it and studied it growing up but, I was never trying to be a jazz artist. I was just a guy that loved music. I was born and raised in church, surrounded by brass bands in church, church music, and great musicians. I played trombone because my father played trombone and I was surrounded by so many other musicians who played it. I play several other instruments like trumpet and baritone, the drums, a little piano.
I was raised on gospel, and classic R&B. I grew up listening to James Brown, Sly & the Family Stone, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and lots of other great artists that sang our music. I just loved that era of music. Since I’m self-taught, all of the music that I learned to love all became a part of my repertoire and who I would become as a trombonist and as an artist. I would learn to play lyrics and not notes. My father taught me to play the words of songs instead of the notes on music sheets. I sing with the trombone and that’s why when people hear me play they know it’s me. My style is distinctive because of the way the instrument was taught to me. People need to hear the words of a song. People weren’t used to hearing that trombone sing. So the gospel songs, jazz, soul, hip hop and R&B and the music that I was raised on and picked up growing up, it all would manifest into one style of soul hip hop and R&B and people would call me a soul jazz artist, a jazz artist, and a neo-soul artist; pretty much whatever label they give you that week (laughs). I was inspired by everything, so many musical movements, so many genres from Muddy Waters to Gil Scott Heron, Marvin Gaye, to Donny Hathaway.
Shameika: What is the most important quality for musicians today? A lot of artists studied the greats in the past, but you don’t see it so much today. What kind of advice would you give to aspiring artists and musicians?
Jeff Bradshaw: Just do what the great ones did. The great ones studied the great ones. You don’t know where you are going until you know where this music came from and know how people suffered for you to have the opportunity that you have. You have stages and the platform that you have now because of the ones that came before you. People had music stolen from them, and performed by other artists because they were black and they wouldn’t play it so white artists would take our music and perform it on the radio stations. So they need to understand that they need to learn the history. You need to understand this platform wasn’t just given to you, it came from the blood, sweat, and tears of artists that came before you who didn’t get proper royalties, didn’t get publishing, or didn’t get taken care of in regards to business. Do your homework.
Shameika: Why would you say the National Museum of African American Music is so important at this point in time?
Jeff Bradshaw: We need this sacred place that holds our history so people will have a frame of reference. Look at how right now we have Future with “Mask Off” and songs like that with catchy hooks and a funky beat; well we had that in the 1990s, and you can trace it all the way back to the 1940s. We had folks like Cab Calloway and Clark Terry, that had very clever and hip things vocally over beats. Those were hip stories they were doing then. For example, Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher,” when he’s doing “hi-de-hi-de-ho;” it’s just like the clever and hip ways they say things now. You don’t want to discount what the young people like, but back then music just had more substance. Hip Hop was about storytelling, and rappers now, they still tell stories, but without substance. There needs to be a means to an end.
Shameika: You had a health scare last year that sidelined you for several months. Has going through that experience changed how you view or create your music?
Jeff Bradshaw: No, it didn’t change how I create my music. Instead it actually made me realize that tomorrow is not promised. Imagine getting ready for a show and you just pass out in rehearsal and you have one of the most awful diagnosis of diverticulitis that you can possibly have. I didn’t know what that was, but it was painful and it almost killed me. So I had to learn about my body and how to eat from all the years of touring and all the damage I’ve done. I had to look at how I can go from here and have a better life. It sidelined me for six months. Love saved me. The love of my musician friends and my friends and fans came to my aid. They held me down when I couldn’t hold myself down. Jill Scott posted a Go Fund Me page and did a benefit concert for me. You don’t know how blessed you are, or who is in your corner, or how you have affected people in your life until you are down and literally cannot provide another dollar for yourself. I lost 66 pounds during that time. I literally didn’t have the strength to pick up my instrument. I’m good now, I eat right and am taking care of myself.
Shameika: You are hitting the road pretty soon for a pretty special event, talk about your upcoming tour.
Jeff Bradshaw: I’m starting my birthday tour in Charlotte, North Carolina on August 30th. Then I’m heading to some other cities like Tampa, Orlando, Washington D.C., and Cleveland. In certain cities I’ll be bringing special guests. In Charlotte, I’ll be solo since it’s a smaller venue, but when I get to the D.C. area, on Saturday September 2nd, my special guests are Algebra Blessett and Glenn Lewis. When I hit Cleveland on September 3rd, my special guest is Conya Doss. It’s going to be a fun week. My actual birthday is September 4th.
Shameika: That sounds like a fun way to celebrate a birthday! Last question, what would you say is your favorite moment in musical history?
Jeff Bradshaw: I have a few moments that stick out for me. I recorded “Butterflies” with Michael Jackson, and I recorded a song with Earth, Wind, & Fire that Floetry was featured on. But one of the biggest moments for me, was being asked to be a special guest on “The Tonight Show.” It was amazing, knowing all the history of the show, including all of the greats that had performed on “The Tonight Show with hosts like Johnny Carson and Jay Leno. When I was asked to perform as a special guest to sit in with The Roots all night long, that was one of my many historic moments that stands out to me. I just played all night long. It was cool, a little kid from the hood that didn’t go to Berklee College of Music, Julliard, or any of those accredited music schools, that was self-taught, and sitting on “The Tonight Show” going off; it was a great day for the hood. It just reminds me that it’s all about our ambition, drive, and our hunger. It really shows that you can do anything.
Check out the clip of Jeff Bradshaw’s favorite moment in music history:
Keep up with Jeff Bradshaw on social media @IamJeffBradshaw for more information.