Philly trombonist Jeff Bradshaw talks about orchestrating Home, an all-star live album recording at the Kimmel on Wednesday - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
Jeff Bradshaw | photo courtesy of the artist

When I called him last week, Jeff Bradshaw was taking a rare moment’s rest, sitting on the sidewalk outside of his favorite cigar shop in Chestnut Hill. It was a momentary respite at best between corralling, at his count, a 19-piece band, 14 guest artists, 18 flights, and 24 hotel rooms to make his dream project happen: a live recording Wednesday night at the Kimmel Center which will become the trombonist’s third album, Home.

“To do something amazing takes that kind of preparation and work,” Bradshaw says. “It’s a lot of moving parts.”

Those parts will come together on Wednesday, Bradshaw promises, to conjure a number of what he calls “Oh no he didn’t moments.” He’s ensuring those moments happen by augmenting his usual horn-heavy ensemble with a ten-piece string section bringing together members of the Philadelphia Orchestra and other chamber ensembles from the city, and by assembling an array of all-star guests that includes R&B/smooth jazz singer-songwriter Will Downing; a cappella gospel sextet Take 6; Grammy-winning keyboardist Robert Glasper; New Orleans rising star Trombone Shorty; ex-Floetry singer-songwriter Marsha Ambrosius; gospel singer Kim Burrell; and smooth jazz saxophonist Najee, among others.

“It’s going to be a once in a lifetime event,” Bradshaw says. “The top ticket price is $100, and there’s no way you can see all of these artists on one stage in one night and pay 100 dollars. At the high end that’s still a great value.”

After releasing two studio albums – his 2003 debut Bone Deep and the 2012 follow-up Bone Appetit – Bradshaw calls Home his “coming out of sorts.” Bradshaw is a gifted instrumentalist and born showman who combines influences from gospel, soul, and jazz and has toured the world with superstar acts including Michael Jackson, Jay-Z, Mary J. Blige, Kirk Franklin, John Legend, The Roots and Earth Wind and Fire. But he’s less known outside of his hometown as a bandleader, so wants to capture his sound at its best: in the live setting.

“I try to keep studio recordings full of energy, but there’s something about live performance, man. I think that’s the best part of my playing and the best part of my arranging. You can feel it more. So I felt like I needed to bring together some of my best friends and some of my favorite artists, some of whom I’ve worked with and some I haven’t, and create a one of a kind musical event in my backyard at the most beautiful and most prestigious performance venue in Philadelphia.”

Jeff Bradshaw's Home won't be the first live album recorded at The Kimmel, but it will be unlike any other that's come before it | photo courtesy of the artist

Jeff Bradshaw’s Home won’t be the first live album recorded at The Kimmel, but it will be unlike any other that’s come before it, says artistic director Jay Wahl | photo courtesy of the artist

Despite some early claims that Home would represent the first live album recorded at the Kimmel, other concerts have been recorded there, according to Jay Wahl, the Kimmel’s artistic director of programming and presentations. “We’ve done shows before that we’ve recorded,” Wahl explains. “But this is different because we set out to create an evening that we were going to record, which is kind of a different premise. Jeff is a fine musician, he’s performed here with us in our smaller venues, he’s performed at venues across town, he’s toured with some unbelievably well-known musicians around the country and the world, and the idea of this recording is to bring him home and celebrate the success that he’s had.”

Working with Bradshaw to realize the Home project ties in with the Kimmel’s increasing desire to make connections with the local Philadelphia music community, Wahl says. “We’re connecting local musicians to musicians around the world and trying to be a catalyst for those opportunities. It’s exciting that we’re working with a local artist to help promote his work. This is really about Jeff and his dream and his vision for his work. We’re happy to be a part of that, we’re happy to support him, and we want to see it succeed.”

The title of the evening and the eventual album, Home, reflects Bradshaw’s gratitude toward his native Philadelphia. “There’s nothing deeper [to the title] than my love for this city and what it’s done for me – the love and support that my fans, family and friends have shown me from the very beginning. This is about celebrating the greatest night in my 21-year career in this business touring and recording and performing, and I felt that it was only right to do that in my city that I rep everywhere I go all over the world.”

Norman “Jeff” Bradshaw grew up in North Philadelphia’s Richard Allen Homes and attending church at the United House of Prayer For All People at 11th and Poplar Streets, where services were accompanied by gospel brass bands. His father played trombone and sang in those bands, which was a major influence on young Jeff. “Sitting in the front pew in church I’d just watch my dad be masterful,” he recalls. “He was my idol. I wanted nothing but to be just like him. He was fly, he was sharp, he was charismatic, he was incredibly gifted, and he made the trombone sing. And that’s the way he taught me.”

Bradshaw proudly proclaims himself a self-taught musician, succeeding without the benefit of more than a public school music education. “My gift was in my mother’s womb when God gave it to me,” he says. “When I came out I had everything I needed. God is first in my life. That’s how I conduct myself, that’s how I raise my children, that’s the kind of person I am. I just try to live a good, clean life, enjoy playing this music and share my gift with the world, and hopefully when I’m done people are touched. People can hear the god in my music. They can hear that I’m channeling something that didn’t come from Berklee or Juilliard, that I’m channeling something divine.”

That natural gift has been supplemented over the years as Bradshaw has logged countless road hours with some of popular music’s biggest names. “I’m a sponge,” he says. “I absorbed all of the artists that I’ve toured and recorded with from Michael Jackson to Earth Wind and Fire to Jill Scott, Jay-Z, The Roots, Kirk Franklin, Faith Evans, Mary Mary, Gerald Levert. I absorb the brilliance of other artists and try to learn from it and find myself in it, so when you hear me play it all makes sense.”

Now many of the artists he’s met along the way will return the favor by dropping in to make his first live album a truly star-studded event. But for all the logistics that have gone into creating the occasion, the concert itself is the least stressful part in Bradshaw’s mind. “It’s just going to be a live concert,” he says. “I’m not expecting any more excellence out of myself, out of my band, or out of my artists than they already deliver. That’s why I hand-picked them, because they’re the best of the best and do what they do exceptionally well. I want people to have a personal concert all to themselves, a concert that you can have at home while you’re cleaning, while you’re entertaining guests, or while you’re on a five-hour ride.”

For Wahl, it’s the spontaneity and unpredictability of any live concert that makes the evening so thrilling. “It’s exciting because we have this one shot to get it right, and that creates a really fun kind of pressure,” he says. “I think it’s important for people to realize that with the live arts, there are stakes. It’s important to me that people remember that the sound they hear on their iPhone comes back to a live performance at some place, and that it’s not some faraway place where music is recorded. They can be a part of it.”

Jeff Bradshaw and Friends perform at The Kimmel Center on Wednesday, May 28th at 7:30 p.m. Tickets and information on the show are available here.

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