David Bromberg: A Joy for Music Rediscovered

Musician and film subject David Bromberg and director Beth Toni Kruvant.

The musician David Bromberg’s life has been indelibly linked to his surroundings, as evidenced in the film DAVID BROMBERG: UNSUNG TREASURE by director Beth Toni Kruvant. The film traces the unlikely arc of a revered musician who walked away from his career at its height, only to rediscover his love for performance several decades later.

It was in New York City in the 1960s that Bromberg, then a student at Columbia University, convinced the blues legend Reverend Gary Davis to become a teacher and mentor. Bromberg learned from Davis a finger-picking blues style, as well as the cadences of preachers, both of which would prove to heavily influence his work. Bromberg was also able to immerse himself in the folk/blues/roots scene that had its geographic center in Greenwich Village.

Although he found commercial success as a musician, the transience of touring with a band eventually took its toll. By the 1980s Bromberg realized that his creative well had run dry, and effectively retired as a performing musician. But he could not quite leave the music world behind, finding new inspiration as a violin dealer.

After relocating to Wilmington, Delaware, in 2002 Bromberg found himself motivated for the first time in more than 20 years to both play music and perform for others. He also took on the role of Wilmington’s cultural ambassador, working with government officials and others to help revitalize the city’s neglected downtown area.

Now in the third act of his musical life, Bromberg last year released a new album, having recruited musicians such as Dr. John, Vince Gill, Keb’ Mo’, Linda Ronstadt and Los Lobos to write and record music with him. The respect that Bromberg commands is evidenced by his interactions with several of these musicians in the film, several of whom acknowledge Bromberg’s influence on their own work.

During the Q&A following the screening Kruvant said that she was inspired to make the film after seeing Bromberg play at a festival and wondering where he had been. The attention seems not to have gone to Bromberg’s head, who likened being the subject of a film to “being the pear in a still life.”