We all know that musicians keep strange hours. In the popular imagination, that translates to a glamorous, nomadic life: traveling the world, thrilling audiences, partying into the wee hours. What we might not think about is the toll that might take on their eating habits.
"You get off stage at 12 midnight," says trombonist Jeff Bradshaw, who's zigzagged the world alongside everyone from Jay-Z to Mary J. Blige to The Roots. "What's good to eat in Salt Lake City at 12:30 a.m.?"
Years of answering that question in less than healthy ways finally caught up with Bradshaw last year, when the North Philly native was diagnosed with a severe case of diverticulitis, causing abscesses in his large intestines. The disease did the unthinkable — it brought Bradshaw's seemingly unflagging energy to a sudden halt, forcing him to leave his trombone in its case for six months and face the prospect of having 16 inches of his large intestines removed.
That surgery has been placed on indefinite hold as Bradshaw manages the condition through a drastic change in diet. "There are so many things I can't eat now," he says, slight regret well balanced with relief at his improving health. "No seeds, no nuts, no corn, no red meat, no fried food, no sodas, no dairy products; a lot of stuff is off the menu. It's not easy — it's the opposite of easy — but now I eat to live and I have so much to live for."
While he was sidelined, Bradshaw was stunned by the outpouring of love and support that he received from the musical community. Friends launched a GoFundMe site to help defray his medical costs, while an all-star line-up of collaborators including Eric Roberson, Jill Scott, and Bilal performed at a sold-out benefit concert at the TLA to raise money.
"It was humbling," Bradshaw says with obvious gratitude. "I had to go through a very private struggle publicly. I went through a rough season, and it just shows the type of love that people have for you. People say things like 'I am my brother's keeper' and all of those great things, but you don't really know until you know."
The new and improved Jeff Bradshaw will be back on stage in his hometown this Saturday for the 11th annual Jazz on the Ave Music Festival, which takes over Cecil B. Moore Avenue between Broad and 17th Streets for the day. The free, family-friendly fest features two stages hosting performances by contemporary jazz and R&B acts, food and merch vendors, and activities for kids. It's sponsored by Beech Community Services, an organization that works on quality of life issues for the Cecil B. Moore community.
This year will mark Bradshaw's fourth performance at the festival and third time headlining. For the occasion he's lined up an impressive roster of invited guests to join his band: in-demand singer/songwriter Eric Roberson; Toronto-born neo-soul star Glenn Lewis, who recently collaborated with DJ Jazzy Jeff on a new album, Chasing Goosebumps; soul-jazz singer Frank McComb, who Bradshaw calls a "Donny Hathaway-Stevie Wonder hybrid"; and Grammy-winning singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Tony Rich.
Jazz on the Ave has become something of an annual homecoming for Bradshaw. "I was born and raised at 11th and Girard. This is a festival that takes place in walking distance to where I grew up. To be able to come from North Philadelphia and have accomplished so many major things in my life and my career is a blessing. I'm able to inspire the young people in the community, to say that I walked these streets, so you too can be successful at anything you want to do with ambition and drive."
Given his recent health scare, such deeper motivations are vitally important to Bradshaw these days. "My time is very deliberate now," he insists. "When you realize that one day you can be rehearsing for a gig and the next minute you're on your knees – I don't take anything for granted anymore. I've always given my all, but now every time I stand on stage I play like it's my last day."