April 23, 2013 – Robert Charles “Bob” Brozman was born to a Jewish family living on Long Island, New York, United States. He began playing the guitar when he was 6.
He performed in a number of styles, including gypsy jazz, calypso, blues, ragtime, Hawaiian music, and Caribbean music. He also collaborated with musicians from diverse cultural backgrounds, from India, Africa, Japan, Papua New Guinea and Réunion. He has been called “an instrumental wizard” and “a walking archive of 20th Century American music”. Brozman maintained a steady schedule throughout the year, touring constantly throughout North America, Europe, Australia, Asia, and Africa. He recorded numerous albums and has won the Guitar Player Readers’ Poll three times in the categories Best Blues, Best World and Best Slide Guitarist. In 1999, Brozman and Woody Mann founded International Guitar Seminars, which hosts over 120 students annually at sites in California, New York, and Canada. From 2000 to 2005 his collaborations landed in the European Top 10 for World Music five times.
He was formerly an adjunct professor in the Department of Contemporary Music Studies at Macquarie University, in Sydney, Australia.
Brozman was well known for his use of National resonator instruments from the 1920s and 1930s and National Resophonic resonator instruments. He also used Weissenborn-style hollow-neck acoustic steel guitars. Among his National instruments were a baritone version of the tricone guitar, which was designed in conjunction with him in the mid- to late 1990s. This instrument is now part of National’s range of products.
Brozman committed suicide on April 23, 2013.
Bob Brozman, who has been found dead aged 59, was a guitarist, ethnomusicologist, songwriter and teacher, as well as an intrepid traveller and musical explorer fascinated by guitar styles from around the world. According to his long-time collaborator and producer Daniel Thomas, Brozman’s “purpose in life was to follow the guitar to all the places that it got left behind, and see what it did in those cultures”. His starting point was the blues, but he became an expert in Hawaiian and Caribbean styles and the music of India, Africa, the Indian Ocean and Japan.
Believing that “music is the universal language”, he befriended international musicians with whom he collaborated in what he termed “hybrid music” (he didn’t like the currently popular term “fusion”). The most extraordinary Brozman show I attended was at LSO St Luke’s in London nine years ago. An excited, hyperactive figure sporting a large beard and a vivid shirt that would have appealed to Nelson Mandela, he switched between Hawaiian styles and the blues before introducing his guests, each of whom had recorded an album of duets with Brozman. There was sanshin player Takashi Hirayasu from Okinawa, the Indian slide guitarist Debashish Bhattacharya and the accordion star René Lacaille from Réunion island in the Indian Ocean. Brozman demonstrated how a Skip James blues would sound with a Réunion beat before bringing all his guests together to swap different global themes.
Born in New York, where his grandparents had settled after leaving Austria and Ukraine, Brozman became fascinated by music as a child. He was intensely proud of his uncle, Barney Josephson, who ran Cafe Society, described as the first club in New York where black and white musicians played together.
He started playing the guitar when he was six, and studied music and ethnomusicology at Washington University, specializing in the history of the delta blues. Brozman travelled widely in the south to learn more about the music, and to play the blues himself, and in the late 70s he became a regular performer at Duff’s club in St Louis, Missouri, where he became known for his musical skill and his wit. He moved on to California and settled in Santa Cruz, where he loved the light in the nearby redwood forests and initially made his living by busking on the streets. He became a local celebrity, with his photo printed in the local paper, and police banned him from singing on Pacific Avenue because he attracted such a large crowd that it caused traffic problems.
He recorded his first album in 1981, and went on to make more than 30 others, divided between solo projects and collaborations with friends from around the world. In the process he introduced western audiences to an extraordinary variety of music: Songs of the Volcano (2005) resulted from his visits to Papua New Guinea, while on Lumière (2007) he revisited favorite collaborations with artists from Africa, India and Japan with the “Bob Brozman Orchestra”, in which he played all the instruments himself. On Six Days in Down (2010) he collaborated with Irish musicians, and he returned to the blues with the angry Post-Industrial Blues (2007). Along with other recent albums, this was co-produced by his wife, Haley, of whom he wrote “our life together is one long and inspiring brainstorming session”.
Continuing to mix performance with musical research, he became fascinated by early Hawaiian music and produced five reissue albums from the old 78rpm recordings that he collected. In 1988 he rediscovered his Hawaiian heroes, the Tau Moe Family, with whom he recorded the album Remembering the Songs of Our Youth, reviving their music from 60 years earlier. Since the age of 13, he had been fascinated by National resonator guitars, and in 1993 published a lengthy history of what he called “the most uniquely American guitars ever made”. He later became an adjunct professor at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia, where he lectured on ethnomusicology.
He travelled for much of the year, and was famous for his energy, often working 17-hour days. Back home in Ben Lomond, a little mountain town on the edge of Santa Cruz, he relaxed by looking after his little farm, which had grapevines, fruit trees and “herds of chickens”.
In 1980 Brozman was involved in a serious car crash and, according to Thomas, “suffered severe pain in his spine and his extremities ever since”. A year and a half ago, Brozman told him he was unable to play Hawaiian guitar. “He said ‘My hand won’t do it’ … and he was the greatest Hawaiian player since Tau Moe.” While recording his last album, Fire in the Mind, “there were times when he just had to stop, and it was incredibly painful for him”. According to Thomas, Brozman “took his own life. He said he was dissolving before his own eyes, and he was devastated by the loss. He struggled to imagine his life without an instrument in his hands.”
Robert Charles Brozman, musician and ethnomusicologist, born 8 March 1954; died 23 April, 2013.
Bob Brozman was a great admirer of National Resonator guitars. On the handrest of his Baritone model, which he could see while playing, he had the following sage advice engraved: “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” He said it kept him honest on stage!