Jazz saxophonist Brodie sought the truth
By Steve Israel
Jazz royalty – in the form of cousin Ella Fitzgerald – ran through his veins.
Illinois Jacquet, Cal Massey, Sonny Stitt and Pharoah Sanders were jazz greats whose bands were graced by his soulful saxophone.
“The Wiz” and “Cotton Comes to Harlem” were films featuring the handsome man with the smooth voice and electric white hair.
But when I think of Hugh Brodie of Monticello, who died last week at 84, the first thing I think of is this:
Hugh Brodie was a seeker of truth in a world where truth is so hard to find.
He sought truth through music everywhere he went – from the farm fields of the south to the streets of Newark, N.J., on up to the Catskill mountains.
He took the first steps toward that truth on his family’s farm in Warrenton County, N.C. His young soul was moved when he heard the workers singing the blues as they picked watermelon and sugar cane in the hot sun.
He felt more of that truth in the Sanctified Church when, as he once told me, “The preacher, he starts off preaching slow, and when he gets to a certain groove, you feel it in your toes, and it climbs up real slow to your knees and shoulders, and then when it comes to the top of your head, it pops.”
The truth of soul-shaking jazz really grabbed him when his family moved to Newark, and the air was lush with the hot sounds of greats like Charlie Parker, Lester Young and Fats Navarro, who played the city’s clubs. His classmates included a young Wayne Shorter, who could play the sax so fast and furiously, the notes seemed to fly away.
Young Hugh Brodie begged his father for a saxophone. When he got one, he roamed the streets picking up empty bottles until he had enough for a $3 lesson.
Brodie learned his lessons so well, he hit the road with all sorts of bands, including Stitt’s. And he kept searching for the truth.
He searched through meditation. He searched with native musicians in Chile. He searched by exploring every music under the sun.
As his wife, Penny, recalls, when Brodie was asked to describe himself, he would first say, “I am a creator,” then “I am a searcher.”
When he met Sullivan County country crooner Mickey Barnett, he created country tunes.
When he had a young daughter, he created “kiddie tunes” and played at local day-care centers.
He searched for the truth in the music of Native Americans and Africa and fused those sounds into his own jazz.
“I’m just trying to create, to do it, man,” he said when I found him searching for new sounds while he practiced at his Monticello home – at 67 years old. “There isn’t enough time to practice, to get it right.”
Hugh Brodie kept seeking the truth until his body left him.
The strong hands that had helped him express that search for musical truth squeezed Penny’s finger one final time. The body that had been hunched over stretched like it hadn’t stretched in ages. The lungs that had breathed so much life into so much music breathed a breath his wife never heard before – as if he were preparing for one final search for the truth.
“And then,” says his wife, “it was like his spirit was rising out of his skin.”
A service for Hugh Brodie will be held from 1-3 p.m. Saturday at the Melendez Funeral Home, 30 Grove St., Middletown.