"I was a front-step kid," says Bradshaw. "Rarely did I stray further than my porch. There was basketball in the playground, but mostly my folks saw to it that days were filled with school, and nights doing church-related activities like choir rehearsal for Sunday Mass at the United House of Prayer for All People."
Church is still huge in Bradshaw's life. No matter where he gigs, every Sunday he's playing at the Baptist Worship Center.
Inspiration came from every aspect of his surroundings, but so did ambition. "I didn't want to be one of those guys who said, 'Aw, man, I'm in North Philly, the man won't give us nothing, they always keeping us down.' That wasn't me."
Further inspiration came from his father's musicianship as a trombonist, trumpeter, and tuba player, and his mother's record collection of jazz, gospel, and R&B. When Bradshaw graduated from high school, he immediately headed to Philly's then-burgeoning scene of the 1980s and '90s: places like Silk City's Back2Basics night fronted by DJs Dozia and King Britt.
"The first guy to bring me on stage was B2B leader Jafar Barron," Bradshaw says. He played at Black Lily nights at the 5 Spot, and at pre-Broad Street Zanzibar Blue. A range of producers and players pushed him toward top-notch gigs for Michael Jackson (on whose "Butterflies" he played) and Jay Z.
"I always knew I'd travel," Bradshaw says. "Going with Jay Z meant the best of everything: five-star hotels, champagne, and Cuban cigars." Bradshaw says he thanks God for the life touring has afforded his family and two young girls. But he longed to express his supple blend of jazz (he loves Miles Davis), hip-hop (he digs '80s rap), soul, and gospel. You can hear those tastes on albums like 2003's Bone Deep.
After working with a string section on the Sitting In sessions at the Kimmel, Bradshaw began a train of thought that led to HOME. He began to talk with Jay Wahl, Kimmel artistic director, "about doing something further with the strings, and . . . a plan was devised." He'd record an album live, onstage - a monumental event, he says, considering that when he was 10, down the block from where the Kimmel stands now, he played with his church brass band, looking for tips for travel expenses.
Beyond recording an album titled HOME, Bradshaw wants the night to be a gathering of old Philly friends (Ambrosius, Bilal), new friends (Take 6), artists whose work he has long adored (Will Downing, Najee), fellow trombone soldiers (Trombone Shorty), and HOME's co-writer and producer, the innovative keyboardist Robert Glasper.
"This show is so big, we had to move it from the Perelman to Verizon Hall," Bradshaw says.
Announcing additional names weekly ("have to keep things tasty"), Bradshaw says he has a Philly icon or two more to come. "And no, I'm not giving any hints." Nor will he say specifically what HOME will sound like. "There will be lots of love songs - to my children, to God - but really it'll be like Thanksgiving, where everyone brings something to supper. With friends who support you, there's bound to be magic."
and friends: 'HOME'
7:30 p.m. Wednesday
at the Kimmel Center, Broad and Spruce Streets.
Tickets: $49-$80. Information: 215-893-1999 or www.kimmelcenter.org.