85, and still swinging!

VJC helps celebrate Howard Brofsky’s birthday with a May 19th concert

BRATTLEBORO — The paths of trumpeter Howard Brofsky and saxophonist Jimmy Heath have crossed frequently over the past 30 years. Both jazzmen share an appreciation of jazz and bebop, held faculty posts at Queens College, and occupied the same stage on numerous occasions.

Now, at age 85, Brofsky and Heath will cross paths again when they take the stage together at the Vermont Jazz Center (VJC) for a concert, “Howard Brofsky and Friends,” on Saturday, May 19, at 8 p.m. at the center, 72 Cotton Mill Hill.

Brofsky, who has earned the moniker “Dr. Bebop,” started playing trumpet at age 17, following bebop legend Charlie Parker and listening to Roy Eldridge.

“I was blown away by the newly emerging bebop,” he recalled of his early music days growing up around New York in 1945-46.

Several years later, after immersion in the jazz scene, and playing and recording in Paris, Brofsky left jazz and turned to classical music scholarship, earning his master's and doctoral degrees at New York University in 18th Century Italian classical music.

“The jazz life was so difficult,” says Brofsky, who was married and raising a family. “I put my horn away and stopped playing and stopped listening to jazz.”

That path led him to a faculty post at Queens College, where he taught classical music history, specializing in composer Padre Giovanni Battista Martini and the transition from Baroque to Classical styles. But nearly 20 years later, at age 46, Brofsky, in a self-described mid-life crisis, “took my horn out of the closet, got back in shape, looked up some of my old friends,” and has been playing ever since.

Brofsky met Jimmy Heath some 30 years ago at a private jam session. Heath had already been around the jazz block, having played with Miles Davis, Kenny Dorham, Gil Evans, Art Farmer, and as one of the Heath Brothers in the 1970s. Heath has collected a host of music awards and accolades over the years, most recently being named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master.

Brofsky and Heath hit it off immediately, and Brofsky, who had started the Master's of Arts in Jazz Program at Queens, in the Aaron Copland School of Music, procured a faculty appointment for Heath to direct the new program.

Brofsky and Heath have played together many times since, but their May 19 concert at VJC will be the first time the two legends have shared a stage since 2005, when they last played at VJC.

According to Brofsky, their common age had something to do with it. “We're both 85 this year,” says Brofsky, who will officially hit 85 this month. “I asked Jimmy to join me for this year's concert and without hesitation he said he would.”

Joining Heath and Brofsky will be pianist Jeb Patton, a former student of Heath's at Queens, who now sits on the faculty there, as well as bassist Mike Karn and drummer Pete Van Nostrand, both of whom have performed with Heath and who make up a piano trio with Patton in New York. The program will consist of original compositions by Heath and Brofsky, as well as jazz standards.

Heath continues to teach and perform. Brofsky is back at Queens College, teaching jazz history and coaching an ensemble. He performs every other week at a club in Brooklyn.

Tickets are $20 general admission, $15 for students with I.D. (contact VJC about educational discounts). Tickets are available at In the Moment in Brattleboro, online at, and at the door. Tickets can be reserved by calling the Vermont Jazz Center ticket line, 802-254-9088, ext. 1. The performance space is wheelchair accessible.

Next up at the Vermont Jazz Center: Eugene Uman's Convergence Project on Saturday, June 9, at 8 p.m.

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