Commemorating Dr. Bebop


BRATTLEBORO -- "Dr. Bebop" was not merely Howard Brofsky's hip nickname.

The words really said a lot about him.

The "Bebop" part is self-explanatory -- it's the style of jazz that Brofsky loved most deeply, played most passionately and championed most earnestly.

But the "Dr." part of his nickname meant something, too. Sure, it was an acknowledgement of his academic credentials -- he had a doctorate in Italian classical music, taught at universities throughout his life and authored a widely respected music textbook.

But there was more to the "Dr." part. Through his kind and caring touch with people, Howard Brofsky had a knack for making them feel better.

On Saturday, the Vermont Jazz Center will honor all those facets of Brofsky's deep and gentle soul with a concert in his memory at 8 p.m.

A longtime president of the VJC board, Brofsky died last Oct. 17, at age 86.

A gathering of representatives from many wings of Brofsky's musical tribe, Saturday's concert will include performances by his close colleagues and family members. In every community that Brofsky settled, be it Queens College, the Louis Armstrong House, the Vermont Jazz Center or Brattleboro, people benefited from Brofsky's wisdom, grace and generosity. Many will be on hand Saturday night.

"I want this to reflect the love that we felt for him but also the respect we had for him," said Vermont Jazz Center Artistic Director Eugene Uman. "Our intent is to show people that Dr. Bebop's legacy lives on."

For years, the May concert at the Vermont Jazz Center featured Brofsky and musicians he invited to join him. It coincided with Brofsky's birthday. Now, musicians are making time to come to Brattleboro to pay tribute to him.

"I'm busy the day before, and I'm busy the day after, but I'm just doing it," said vocalist Jay Clayton, who connected closely with Brofsky during many years at the Vermont Jazz Center's Summer Workshop. "I miss him terribly. ... Everybody that's going to be there are Howie-appreciators."

Count Clayton among those who loved Brofsky's playing on trumpet, cornet and mellophone.

"It was very lyrical and to the point. There was no excess," she said.

"In jazz, he found a way to relax. He could get into his actual core, his heart," said Uman. "When Howard brought him horn to his lips, he evoked what was in his mind. ... He really played intentionally. He played with knowledge of Mozart, Bach and Beethoven and Schoenberg and also Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and Dexter Gordon."

Growing up steeped in classical music -- he once studied with Nadia Boulanger -- Brofsky fell hard when he first heard the beboppers. He saw Charlie Parker on 52nd Street. Later he jammed with Dexter Gordon at the session studio he built in an old barn in Brattleboro.

Many of the other musicians he played with are appearing at the VJC on Saturday. Among them are Tim Armacost, Scott Mullett and Sherm Fox (saxophones), Ray Gallon, Jorn Swart, Harvey Diamond and Eugene Uman (piano), Curtis Ostle and George Kaye (bass); and Jon Fisher and Claire Arenius (drums). Others are likely to come, too, and the Vermont Jazz Center Little Big Band, an offshoot of its Big Band, will play.

The concert also features members of Brofsky's family -- his son, Alex Brofsky (French horn) and granddaughter Cordelia Tapping (voice).

"He was always sweet and loving and supportive," said Alex Brofsky. "I always wanted to spend more time with him."

About the time young Alex turned 13, he realized his father was a talented musician, and it influenced his decision to pursue music. He loved his father's playing.

"(His gifts) would have to be in melody and timing. ... His timing was gorgeous, the way he laid the notes," said Alex, who relished the chances he got to share the stage with his father. "In a way, it was almost more fun to listen to him than to play."

One of Dr. Bebop's favorite endeavors was to turn friends and students on to the world of bebop. He did this through informal listening sessions, where he would carefully select seminal recordings by the musicians who influenced him in his own development. Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Dexter Young and Louis Armstrong were artists who epitomized the essence of swing and nuance -- he had listened to all of them live on numerous occasions and was intimately familiar with their work.

"In his sound, I think he captured that era," said Alex Brofsky.

Howard Brofsky was the key representative of Queens College responsible for the establishment of the Louis Armstrong House, and he helped develop the jazz program at Queens College. In addition, he was, for many years, the president of the Vermont Jazz Center board, and its president emeritus forever.

"To be able to have Howard as our ambassador of Jazz Center, it brought an authenticity that was undeniable," said Uman. "The Jazz Center was kind of a manifestation of his ability to welcome people into the fold."

Including young people. Saturday's concert is a benefit for the Vermont Jazz Center. There is no fee, but donations will be accepted to go toward the VJC Scholarship Fund in Howard Brofsky's name.

"His legacy of outreach to the youth is one of the legacies that will never die at the Vermont Jazz Center," said Uman.

This concert has been sponsored by William Schutt of Matcor, Inc. Hotel rooms have been provided by the Hampton Inn, media support has been provided by VPR, WFCR, WKVT and the Brattleboro Reformer. The VJC thanks the Vermont Arts Council for ongoing support.

The VJC is handicapped-accessible; call to arrange assistance at 802-254-9088. For more information, visit


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