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Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Jedd Beaudoin
Photo: Raj Naik

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Bassmaster Brian Bromberg has remixed and remastered his 2012 album Bromberg Plays Hendrix to mark the half-century passing of guitar master Jimi Hendrix. One of the more remarkable feats on the record is that Bromberg includes no guitars. It's just him and acclaimed drummer Vinnie Colaiuta (Sting, Frank Zappa, Joe Satriani) burning their way through a host of Hendrix classics and accentuating the free spirit of the late musician.

The new edition of the LP includes "Jimi", which finds the duo channeling Hendrix's musicality but landing on something that is, true to form, deeply original. It's a powerful statement of Bromberg's compositional mastery and his dedication to the project. He had initially intended to cover Hendrix's "Voodoo Child", but when he couldn't get the rights, he opted to create something that spoke fully to his connection with the Hendrix legacy.

"'Jimi' sounds nothing like 'Voodoo Child.' The melody's different, the notes are different", he says. "But the vibe is very similar to how 'Voodoo Child' would have been had I recorded it. What else am I going to call it but 'Jimi'?" Bromberg spoke with PopMatters about the origins of the LP and where Hendrix might have landed, musically, had he returned to the United States in 1970 and continued his musical explorations.

Where and when did you discover Jimi Hendrix's music?

I grew up with all kinds of music. We were really into jazz in our house, but I also heard the Beatles and Jefferson Airplane and Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro. I heard everything. Even as a young child, and I was very young, I guess I had ears or aptitude for it. I was kind of advanced for my age.

For whatever reason, I really got connected to Jimi and his music. There was something about him. I used to stare at his pictures and just look at him and say, "God, he's amazing." The thing about him that's cool is he didn't really sing. He spoke to you. He kind of sang, he kind of talked, he was just this entity. He had a lot to say, and the way he would deliver a song was powerful.

So between his larger-than-life persona and some really creative, screaming improvisational rock, [I was intrigued]. I always had this deep respect for him and his music and his artistry. And the way the whole record came about is kind of freaky. Did you hear how the record came about?

No, that was going to be my next question.

Many years ago, I was having lunch with a record company executive friend of mine based in New York but was in LA on business. I met him for lunch and completely out of the clear blue in the conversation, over lunch, he said, "You should do a Jimi Hendrix record." And I looked at him, like, "What? Are you crazy?" Why would I do with Jimi Hendrix? He's such a great guitar player, an icon, and I'm just this jazz bass player. What can I possibly do with a Jimi Hendrix record?" I thought he was crazy and changed the subject.

Two years later, I was talking with another record company executive friend of mine, this time, a gentleman from Tokyo, Japan. He's like, "You should do a Jimi Hendrix record." What are the odds that two company executives 10,000 miles away, two years apart, that don't know each other say exactly the same thing?

It just took my breath away. I thought, "Well, obviously, they are both thinking or hearing something that I'm not. I need to take this more seriously. And I'm going to look at this now because now I've got two people saying the same thing. There must be a reason." And that was it. I jumped into his music. Why not?

I was reminded, before our conversation, that the album was just you on bass and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums. No guitars.

It was really fun, a challenge. I've been playing piccolo bass for years, which is a bass tuned to the register of a guitar. When you listen to this record, it's cool because you don't know who it is. I don't sound like anybody else. You would also never think of me as a jazz bass player when you listen to this record. In a sense, it's cool because everything about it is completely wrong.

I'm a bass player tuning my bass weird, playing stuff that's completely out of my genre and element. Vinnie is just insane. He's amazing. He did the entire record in one day. He just came over to my studio and literally just played the record down from top to bottom.

So many people think of Hendrix as a rock 'n' roll player, but I'm curious if you think of him as a jazz player.

He was a blues guitar player; he was a rock, blues, jazz guitar player. He was just a guitar player; you can't really pin what it was. He's so expressive; there's a lot of blues in him, and there's all this improvisation, which is jazz. He and Miles Davis were gonna record together. He died two weeks before that was gonna happen. I know a recording engineer who used to work in Electric Ladyland Studios in New York City in the '60s. He saw that Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix were coming into record together. He would have been on the session.

And, and another friend of mine, a pianist, a jazz pianist, named Bobby Lyle, who was in his 70s, said to me the other day, "You know, Jimi and I were friends. He was putting a new group together because he wanted to get more into jazz. Because that was he loved the improvisational aspect of it." So he was putting a new band together with a bunch of jazz guys. Bobby said, "I was going to be the piano player. I was going to be the keyboard player in the band. We were going to start rehearsing when he came back from England, and he died on that trip."

I think you can make the case that Bitches Brew in some ways hints it at what that might have been.

Hendrix, in a sense, reminds me of Miles because Miles, technically, wasn't an amazing trumpet player. He wasn't like Clifford Brown or Freddie Hubbard. But he was such an artist. Miles was bigger than the music. He was bigger than the instrument. Hendrix wasn't a guy that had the kind of technique and virtuosity on the instrument that John McLaughlin had. But what Hendrix did was untouchable. Miles was the same way. Their instruments were a cool way to express the amount of humanity they had. I think they would have made groundbreaking music together.

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