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Bob Brookmeyer stories

The Students

Bob took the time to know me. Not what I wore as a mask, but the marrow. Through all of this he provoked me into being original. He fought me and I him, but in the end I was able to see into myself in a way that had previously eluded me. He showed me who I was. He lifted the veil. Every time I sit down to write, I compose more earnest music than would be possible had he not taken the time to know my core, and champion my own intrinsic value. What I learned from Bob was less about music and more about honesty and the cultivation of an accurate sense of self. He had both of those things in spades. He was deeply honest. Read the complete text.
Nicholas Urie '07, '09 M.M. received one of the first ASCAP Young Jazz Composer's Awards before coming to NEC to study with Bob Brookmeyer.

When I decided to study with Bob Brookmeyer, friends and former students warned me. They said, “Watch out for the old man, he is tough on everyone.” [… In my first lesson] Bob was nice, did not say much while sitting at the piano and we got down to playing very quickly. As we played through a standard and I tried to play while attempting to guess what it is that would most impress Bob, a few choruses into the tune, he ended the tune as abruptly as he did elegantly. Bob turned to me and said, “Nice, but don’t play like everyone else in here … I am too old to hear all that academic stuff! I love music, I want to hear something new … I want to hear you!” Read the complete text.
Petr Cancura '06 M.M., the Ottawa Jazz Festival’s programming manager and a Brooklyn-based saxophonist, sent this remembrance to Peter Hum's jazz blog at the Ottawa Citizen.

I’ve known Bob for about eight years now, starting out as his student at New England Conservatory, then working with him as an assistant and copyist. Eventually the boundaries of “titles” faded away, leaving just a loving and enduring friendship that I hold very dear to my heart. […] Bob, all I can say at this point is thank you. […] You have stretched my ears far beyond any point I would have found on my own and have taught me more about music than I can express here. Read the complete text.
Ryan Truesdell '06 M.M. is a composer who also works as copyist for clients ranging from Maria Schneider to the Gil Evans Estate.

More than a mentor, he was and is the most important shaping force in my musical life. He saw the spark of something in me and invited me to study with him at New England Conservatory, and any succes I've had since is directly attributable to his influence. I'm going to miss him something fierce. Find related links.
Darcy James Argue '02 M.M. and his Secret Society received a 2010 Grammy Nomination for their album Infernal Machines.

When I got accepted into the master's program at NEC, one of the first classes I had was my first private composition lesson with Bob. For some reason, on that first day there was another student during a two-hour-long session as well. At some point Bob asked whether we like our own music or not. I did not have to think twice. My response was instant: “I love my music.” I told him that I get the most joy out of life when I actually listen to my own music. I also told him that I knew that my music wasn’t “perfect” but, I loved it just the way it was and that I was here to study with him to make it better (yet still love it just as much). Later, during our studies he would always recall that very first day and tell me how important it was to him that I responded the way I responded. He was a wonderful man, a true friend and a great supporter. His influence will always live on in my music.
Mehmet Ali Sanlikol '00 M.M., '04 D.M.A. is a member of the Turkish classical ensemble Dünya and directs the Middle Eastern Ensemble at Brown University.

Fellow Teachers

Bob Brookmeyer has been such a big part of my life for so many years, it’s difficult to imagine that he’s gone. ¶ I heard him play at Swarthmore College with guitarist Jim Hall when I was a student there in 1980. That was one of the most thrilling musical performances of my life. I can remember their version of “Baubles, Bangles and Beads” like it was yesterday, Jim Hall starting off with a kind of ambiguous vamp, and then Bob coming in with the melody, playing it with such love, sincerity, swing. Every time I play the flugelhorn I try to duplicate that entrance, that sound. ¶ When I came to NEC in 2001, Bob had been on the faculty for 4 years. He continued to teach at NEC for 6 more years. His students at NEC include many of the most influential of today’s young jazz composers. He started the NEC Jazz Composers Workshop Orchestra in 2000, which continues to this day. Bob had a huge impact on an entire generation of NEC students. ¶ One of the great joys of my time at NEC was watching Bob rehearse the band. So much of what I do myself now I trace back to my observations of Bob. Every time I conduct a crescendo, I visualize Bob’s rising fist, which was impossible for players to ignore. ¶ Bob Brookmeyer was always honest, whether it was in music or in life. He once said to me that he wanted to teach in a school that had “no clocks, no schedule.” He also wanted a student to carry his trombone case for him. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do away with the clocks and schedule at NEC. But I noticed that Bob always had no trouble finding a student willing to carry his case. ¶ His musical honesty was reflected in the complete unity between his playing and composing. He was one of the greatest player/composers in the history of jazz, improvising with the same seemingly effortless grace, subtlety and logic that characterized his writing. His voice was unmistakable. And he will be sorely missed.
Ken Schaphorst '84 M.M. is chair of jazz studies at NEC.

Bob was a beautiful person, a great teacher and an even greater musician and composer. His boundary-crossing music spoke to our time in general and to NEC's vision in particular.
Michael Gandolfi '79, '81 M.M. is chair of composition at NEC.

For the Record

Nothing you can say about Bob Brookmeyer can possibly rival the truth about him […] a man of ear-shattering candor who liked nothing better than saying whatever was on his mind at any given moment, especially when he knew it would give offense. Unlikely as it may sound, he was genuinely lovable—unless you happened to be on the receiving end of one of his diatribes, and sometimes even then—and I adored him. Read the complete text.
Terry Teachout's Blog

I've loved Bob's compositions and arrangements and his playing since the moment I first heard his music in the '70s. It turned my life around. Bob became a wonderful teacher, mentor and dear friend. And he was enormously generous to those lucky enough to be his friend. Oddly, Bob's newest recording came out last week—an astoundingly beautiful vocal album of arrangements where every cut is a perfect gem. […] His musicians give a spectacular performance that's vividly full of love. […] What a gift Bob has been giving us all for decades. There's so much to be grateful for.  And here is one final, spectacular little gem that he's left with us.
Maria Schneider is a composer/bandleader who most recently visited NEC in 2004 for a week of workshops and a performance of her large-form music.