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Native son Brian Bromberg joins the Tucson Music Hall of Fame

Brian Bromberg's Tucson roots go pretty deep. He was born here. He went to school here and lived his entire pre-adult life here. He still has family here: his mother, sister and nephew.

But the renowned bass player, producer and soon-to-be record-label owner hasn't been around Tucson much lately. Before his scheduled performance at the TAMMIES--when he was enshrined, figuratively speaking, in the Tucson Music Hall of Fame--he hadn't performed here in at least three or four years. And as the Rialto shuts down indefinitely for renovations after a change in ownership, it's interesting that Bromberg was slated to be part of the last show of the current Rialto era, considering that he'd never played at the Rialto before.

"The first time ever," he said during a recent interview with the Weekly. "That's part of the weird side of being from Tucson. It's a situation where there are so many things (in Tucson) I've never done."

Bromberg, 43, started off playing the drums, kicking off his pro career at the age of 13. He also played the cello, and in junior high school, a teacher suggested he take up the bass to fill a need in the orchestra. And, as the cliché goes, the rest is history. He said he locked himself in his room and practiced day and night from the age of 14 on, and started playing numerous gigs with several bands.

The fact that he was growing up in mid-late-'70s Tucson worked to young Bromberg's advantage.

"Being in a city of that size was amazing in many ways," he said. "I was one of only a handful of bass players, so I got to play a lot. In a sense, it was fantastic. It gave me a training vehicle to experiment with many different styles."

The small-town atmosphere that benefited Bromberg also hindered him in some ways; there weren't that many venues to play at, and he was forced to play with the same people all the time. But in a way, it was Tucson's small size that ended up leading to Bromberg's big break, with a big assist from a now-defunct organization that brought great jazz musicians to town for performances and residencies, Una Noche Plateada. Because Brian was a relatively big fish in a small pond, it meant he had access to the visiting musicians.

"I'd just be a sponge," he said. "There were these amazing musicians coming from New York, and I got to really know them."

One of the visiting musicians Bromberg got to know was Marc Johnson, the bassist with the Bill Evans Trio. A few months later, Johnson ran into sax great Stan Getz during a tour. It turns out Getz needed a new bass player, and when Getz asked Johnson if he knew anybody, Johnson remembered the kid from Tucson.

One audition later, and Bromberg was touring the world with Getz' quartet, just days shy of his 19th birthday.

Since then, Bromberg has been on a tear with his career. The list of big names he's played with is stunning. Gillespie. Hancock. Koz. Even Kenny G.

Then there's the success that Bromberg's had with his solo albums in jazz circles. In 1998, he was in Tucson visiting family when his agent called to let him know that his then-newest record, You Know That Feeling, had hit No. 1 on the charts. He didn't believe her.

"It took 10 minutes for her to convince me," he said, adding that she had to actually send him a copy of the list before he completely believed it.

Not a bad career for someone who won't even turn 44 until December.

"I look at the list (of musicians I've played with) and I go, 'My God, I must be 65 years old,'" he said. "I've been very fortunate. The list of people I've gotten to make music with is really astounding. And a hit record--I am a bass player and had a hit record!"

Bromberg's appearance in Tucson, he said, will provide him with a break from all that he's working on right now--which is a lot. One, as a producer with his own company, B2 Productions, he's working with a number of musicians in the studio on various projects. Two, he's just released two albums in Japan: a reissue of his It's About Time--The Acoustic Project, and a instrumental rock/jazz fusion album called Bass Ackwards. He said he intends to release both domestically next year (although Bass Ackwards will probably have a different name). Three, he's starting, with several partners, a new record label. And four, he's developing a signature model bass, called the B2 Bass, with Dean Guitars. In yet another Tucson link for Bromberg, Bob Mick, a local bass builder, is working on the project, too.

But first comes that aforementioned break for the TAMMIES, his first Rialto gig and his Hall of Fame honors.

"I think it's wonderful anytime you're recognized for something," he said. "I've worked hard in my career, and it's nice for someone to take notice."

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