Bobby Broom was born in Harlem, New York, on January 18, 1961, and raised on Manhattan’s
Upper West Side. He began studying the guitar at age 12, concentrating on jazz under the aegis of
Harlem-based guitar instructor Jimmy Carter. A 16-year-old prodigy at the High School of Music and Art (now known as the LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts), he played in the jazz ensemble and was awarded for Outstanding Jazz Improvisation during his senior year.
Chaperoned by Weldon Irvine (an early mentor of his, composer for Freddie Hubbard and Horace Silver, bandleader for Nina Simone, and lyricist of “To Be Young, Gifted and Black”), the 16-year-old Broom found himself in an East Side NYC jazz club for the purpose of being taught to sit in. That lesson became a reality for Broom when Al Haig, pianist for Charlie Parker, invited him to join in for a couple of tunes. Impressed by the youngster’s playing, Haig offered him the chance to play with him at Gregory’s on the Upper East Side whenever he wanted. Broom ended up playing two or three times a week there, and also got to play, with great awe, with another notable Bird keyboardist, Walter Bishop, Jr.
Broom was soon pursued by an even greater jazz legend, Sonny Rollins, whose guitarist at the time, Aurell Ray, saw Broom play in Irvine’s musical, Young, Gifted and Broke, in Brooklyn, and arranged to have him meet Rollins. After playing with the tenor colossus at a rehearsal, Broom was asked to go on the road with him. Still in high school, Broom (and his parents) declined.
But in 1977, Rollins invited Broom to perform with him at a Carnegie Hall concert, initiating a long musical relationship between them. Four years later, Broom began a six-year stint as a member of Rollins’s band, to which he would return in later years, appearing on Rollins albums including No Problem; Reel Life; Sonny, Please, and three volumes of the live Road Shows series. “Bobby is one of my favorite musicians,” says Rollins. “He explains why I like the guitar. He’s got a strong musical sixth sense. That makes a lot of explanations and directions unnecessary.”
Broom’s first two albums were Clean Sweep (1981) and Livin’ for the Beat (1984), pre-smooth jazz efforts that transcended the limitations (and sometimes harsh criticism) of that category. In 1984, for personal reasons, he uprooted himself from New York and moved to the Windy City.