Yoko Miwa

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Remembering Paul Broadnax

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Boston lost a local jazz legend on August 1: the brilliant pianist & singer Paul Broadnax passed away at the age of 92. Paul had an elegantly swinging piano style, influenced by Ahmad Jamal and Nat King Cole among others.

He had the most beautiful touch on the piano. Once when I remarked about it to him he replied, “I don’t want to hurt the piano!” He never overplayed, even though he had the technique to do so. When I listened to Paul play a piano solo, every note was vital and perfectly placed; it was like a lesson in the history of jazz piano. He would improvise arrangements on the spot which sounded polished and rehearsed.

Paul had a great singing voice, too, in the vein of Joe Williams. The icing on the cake is he was such a kind-hearted, beautiful human being. That helped make him such a
dynamic performer. When Paul played, people listened. It wasn’t anything he did to try and make them listen; he was just being himself and I think the audience always seemed to understand they were witnessing something historic.

We have something in common, like myself, Paul Broadnax had a regular gig at The Mad Monkfish (formerly known as Thelonious Monkfish) for the last 3 years. His health was failing in June and he had to miss a performance. The news was grim as we learned Paul was in hospice care. To everyone’s surprise Paul’s health suddenly began to improve and he returned to Monkfish for what would be his final performance on July 14. A little more than two weeks later, he would we gone, but you wouldn’t know it by hearing him, even though he was seated in a wheelchair instead of at the piano bench he’d always used before.

The video Below is of the last set of Paul’s final performance at Monkfish. I invite you to watch it and share in the joy that was Paul Broadnax. All who knew him have been saying that once Paul is gone that’s it, he took an era of music with him and there will never be another musician like Paul Broadnax.

I’m so thankful not only that he existed but also that I was lucky enough to live in the same time to be a witness. It reinforces my belief that music is a universal language, and that we’ve only just begun to understand its function, worth, and healing properties in this world.

Paul’s friends and family are invited to attend the Celebration of Life Memorial on Saturday, September 1 at 11:00 a.m. at St. Paul’s AME Church, 37 Bishop Richard Allen Drive, Cambridge. It will be followed by a Jazz Celebration at St Paul’s Christian Life Center, 85 Bishop Richard Allen Drive, Cambridge at 1:00 p.m.

For more about Paul Broadnax:

The Paul Broadnax Trio’s final Monkfish performance. Paul closes with his
signature tune, “The Party’s Over,” for the final time.

Tribute to Paul Broadnax at Monkfish on August 11, featuring Paul’s
rhythm section of Peter Kontrimas on acoustic bass & Les Harris, Jr. on
drums. Lead by former Boston Pops pianist Brad Hatfield with guest
appearances by Tim Ray and Dominique Eade.

6 comments

  1. Paul not only sang like Joe Williams, he was deeply respected by him. When I played with Joe he invited Paul up to play piano and sing a number. That’s saying something.

  2. I was at Paul’s last gig on Sunday afternoon at Maudslay State Park – rain threatened, so it was set up under a roof – the room was filled, with others sitting outside under umbrellas in case of rain. He was so full of joy that day, his voice stronger than it had been for at least the last year, it was so very obvious he was having a great time, as were all of his friends in the audience.

    1. Thank you for posting Judy! I heard very similar accounts from others who were there in the audience that day, it makes me happy to hear about the collective joy that was shared. :)

  3. God bless you, Yoko, for your appreciation – and obviously your love – for Paul Broadnax. A fan of yours (Bob Markel of Charlestown) linked me to your website today, where I just learned of Paul’s death. I have been somewhat out of the New England jazz loop since Carolyn and I moved from Boston to South Bend, Indiana, in 2004, but I talked to Paul about three months ago and he said he felt well enough to perform again; so, it came as quite a shock today to learn the news. My conversations with Paul always included a history lesson about his work with Sabby Lewis or his admiration for Ernestine Anderson or Don Byas (yes, Paul was a tenor sax man, too. I am deeply saddened but grateful to know that Paul has a disciple as wonderful as you. If you should ever schedule a trio performance with Les and Peter, please let me know and I will do my best to be there. I have a jazz show on a low-power fm station here during which I feature New Englanders every Wednesday. Of course, there will a special tribute to Paul. Thanks, once again, for keeping the flame burning.

    Brent Banulis

    1. Dear Brent,
      Thank you for the very kind words and the wonderful addition to this thread about Paul, we are all still missing him and finding it hard to accept he’s gone. If you play jazz piano and heard Paul play I think you just effortlessly became his disciple. I will do my best to keep the flame burning. :) Let me know if you ever come back to Boston to visit and let me know if you’d like a few copies of my CD’s for your radio show. Look forward to meeting you in person one day.
      Sincerely,
      Yoko

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