STORY WRITTEN BY DUTCH GODSHALK
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David Bromberg, the sharp-witted songwriter whose long and illustrious career has roots in the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early 1960s, is something of an American music historian. Simply mention the words “the blues” to him, and the songsmith will unleash a torrent of information.
“There are a lot of different kinds of blues,” says Bromberg, on the phone during a drive between gigs in Dallas and Austin, Texas. “Basically the word of the term ‘the blues’ was a marketing term,” a catchall that came to include many different sounds and styles performed by African-American musicians, he says. Gradually, he says, the definition narrowed.
At this point in our talk, the multi-instrumentalist launches into a full lecture on the earliest days of the genre, name-checking some of the most renowned blues pioneers, like Mississippi John Hurt, Blind Willie McTell, and Led Belly.
Bromberg speaks so quickly, and with such command of the subject matter, that this reporter’s hand could barely jot everything down in sufficient detail.
But one thing is certain, he said, winding down: “The blues are the greatest American contribution to music worldwide. Without the blues, there would be no rock and roll, there would be no bluegrass, there would be no American pop music. And that includes all the Frank Sinatra standards.”
Considering the title of Bromberg’s latest album, — “The Blues, the Whole Blues, and Nothing but the Blues” (released in early October) — it makes sense that the industry legend has an abiding adoration for one of America’s oldest and most influential musical offerings.
“I think, at this point, as long as there’s music, the influence of blues and blues musicians will continue to be felt,” he says.
It will certainly be felt on New Year’s Eve, as Bromberg takes the stage at World Café Live in Philly and uses the blues to usher in a new year and wipe away one that, for many, has been less than outstanding.
Between a historically contentious election and a lengthy, jaw-dropping list of celebrity deaths — including music legends Prince and Leonard Cohen — 2016 has been exhausting and anxiety-inducing, to say the least.
Looking back on the year, Bromberg says, “The election did get me very depressed. And I haven’t missed the fact that so many great musicians and friends of mine have passed. There were a lot. It just didn’t seem to stop. I don’t know if the (NYE show) will be a catharsis moment, but I’ll be happy to say goodbye to 2016.”
Even so, considering the cathartic power of the blues in all its styles, from Chicago to Mississippi Delta, NYE does seem like an appropriate time for the music to do what it does best: let out the stress and exorcize some negative energy.
As for what exactly his band will play at World Café, no one knows — not even Bromberg.
“I’ve never had a set list in my life, so I have no idea what I’m going to play, and I won’t have any until I’m playing it. It makes it interesting for all of us,” he says.
“It also makes sure no two shows are alike.”
IF YOU GO
What: The David Bromberg Quintet
Where: World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St., Philadelphia.
When: Saturday, Dec. 31. Doors: 8:30 p.m. Show: 10 p.m.
Tickets: Floor: $60. Mezz: $80 + fees.
More information: www.worldcafelive.com.