They Prefer to Duo It Up Right : Jazz: Pianist Alan Broadbent and bassist Putter Smith, who will perform at Kikuya this evening, have devoted their much of their lives to their craft.


Listen to these words from bassist Putter Smith about his friend and musical associate, pianist Alan Broadbent.

“Impeccable,” Smith began by phone from his home in Los Angeles. “Based in the essence of jazz, which is rhythm. His search is always to invoke the muse. And fortunately, people find that very entertaining in Alan’s case.”

Smith and Broadbent, who play as a duo tonight at Kikuya Restaurant, have recorded five albums under Broadbent’s name. Later this month, they’ll be doing a sixth, this one also including Broadbent’s schoolboy chum from his native New Zealand, drummer Frank Gibson.


Broadbent’s most visible position is as the keyboardist in bassist Charlie Haden’s Quartet West, a band that travels the world, frequently sits at the top of jazz polls and earned a Grammy nomination this year for best jazz instrumental performance, individual or group.

Playing is just one aspect of Broadbent’s career. He’s also much in demand as a writer and arranger. Natalie Cole, Tom Scott and Mel Torme are among those who have used his charts. In fact, Broadbent is nominated for a Grammy for his arrangement of “Without a Word of Warning” from Torme’s latest album, “A Tribute to Bing Crosby.”

His writing reflects the classical-music training he got as a youth in New Zealand. “That’s the other half of my life,” he said, “Mahler and Schumann and the others.”

But jazz, he explained in considered tones, requires more than just the skills learned when studying classical music.

“Anybody can acquire technique,” he said. “You don’t need classical training to obtain the technique to play jazz. If that were true, a lot of jazz musicians wouldn’t qualify as jazz musicians.

“It’s not about technique, but about what you hear and feel. It’s a technique of the ear, listening to Louis Armstrong, Lester Young, Bird (Charlie Parker). They’re the Bach, Beethoven and Mozart of the art. If you want to be a composer, you have to know those three.”


At age 14, Broadbent heard the Dave Brubeck group in New Zealand, and his interests were turned around. He began pursuing jazz and earned a scholarship to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, which he attended from 1966 to 1969.

When he was only 21, he joined Woody Herman’s band. He spent a number of years with Herman, composing such tunes as “Bebop and Roses,” as well as the ambitiously orchestrated “Variations on a Scene.”

After he moved to L.A., his career took a strong upward turn in 1978, when he joined Haden’s Quartet West. Broadbent brings much of the romance to that ensemble, playing with rich, sometimes rigorous style that shows him to be not only a master of his craft, but also a player who can touch the deepest emotions.


Broadbent’s longtime associate, Putter Smith, is equally devoted to his craft.

“I’ve made a commitment to perform at least five times a week, always with high-quality musicians,” Smith said by phone. “Even if I’m not working, I make sure I get together with the cats and play.”

While many bassists toil in the background, Smith toils for recognition harder than most: His older brother is Carson Smith, the bassist famous for his associations with Stan Kenton and Gerry Mulligan.

“I’m really not used to this attention,” Smith said. He even got his first gig because “somebody found out I was Carson’s brother. The bass I played had three strings.”


Born in Bell, Smith began playing bass with guitarist Dave Koonse while both were students at Bell High School. He’s been playing with Koonse ever since. He’s also done gigs with the Toshiko Akiyoshi Orchestra, saxophonist Lew Tabackin’s trio, singers Diane Schuur and Johnny Mathis, pianists Dave Frishberg and Mose Allison and with drummer Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers for a couple years in the early ‘70s.

“I’ve done so much, I really can’t remember most of them,” he said.

One gig he does remember is one with the legendary Thelonious Monk.

“It was a last-minute call to play with him around 1970 at the Jazz Workshop. I knew all the music, but I considered it was a closed door to a white musician. Needless to say, I had some trepidation.

“I was to meet him for the first time just some 15 minutes before the gig. The drummer was going to take me in to see him, and he told me, ‘Remember, Monk is always right.’ So we go in the dressing room, and Monk looks at me, and right away he says, ‘White is right.’ I knew immediately everything was cool.

“After the gig, he asked me to go down to Los Angeles and play Shelly’s Manne Hole with him, and I just started hanging around him all hours of the day and night,” Smith said. “What an incredible human being he was. I can’t tell you.”

* Alan Broadbent and Putter Smith play tonight at Kikuya Restaurant, 8052 Adams Ave., Huntington Beach. 8:30 p.m. No cover. (714) 536-6665.