Paul Broadnax chuckled when I asked him to sign my copy of his LP, Introducing the Paul-Champ Three. “Now I know there are at least two people who have this record,” he said. “You, and me!” Broadnax, who died at age 92 on August 1, 2018, made that record in 1966. When I showed him my copy in 2014, he said it had been quite some time since he’d last seen one.
The Three were Paul Broadnax, piano and vocals; Champlin “Champ” Jones, bass and vocals; and Tony Sarni, drums. Broadnax and Jones shared arranging duties. The two first met in 1950, when Broadnax was writing arrangements for the Sabby Lewis Orchestra, and Jones joined as bassist. They started out as a duo in about 1960, and added Sarni on drums shortly after—there was more work for a trio. And they found plenty of it.
The Paul-Champ Three wasn’t a jazz group, although their sets always included jazz. The instrumental numbers especially gave Broadnax space to improvise. They advertised themselves as a general business band, even said it right in the album liner notes. “They had the events business sewed up.” Fred Taylor told me. He booked them at Paul’s Mall. “Every wedding, every function. They played all the good cocktail parties. And they swung.” They had lengthy residences in suburban lounges like the Cottage Crest in Waltham and the Chateau de Ville in Framingham.
With their mix of current pop tunes, standards, and Broadnax’s own compositions, the Paul-Champ Three played things everybody liked. It served them well, and they worked steadily through the rock wave of the late sixties and early seventies.
Not a Full Time Gig
I’m not sure when the group disbanded, or why. I’ve found no mentions of the Paul-Champ Three after October 1976. Perhaps Champ Jones left the music business to concentrate on his day job. He became a mortician, and owned and operated funeral homes in Cambridge and Everett. Paul and Tony kept going for a time in the late 1970s with another bassist, as the Paul Broadnax Trio, but then Sarni’s day job—he ran a remodeling business in the western suburbs—pulled him away from music, too.
Broadnax had a day job of his own during the Paul-Champ Three’s heyday. He served in the army 1944-46, and used his G.I. Bill money to put himself through engineering school. He started at Wentworth and transferred to Northeastern, graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering. Raytheon hired him in 1951, and he worked there as an electromechanical engineer until the early 1970s.
Introducing the Paul-Champ Three, with its blend of current pop tunes, standards, and originals, mirrors what the group was playing on stage. There are contemporary hits like “The Shadow of Your Smile,” “Summer Wind,” and “Do I Hear a Waltz?” All three, regarded as standards today, made their debuts in 1965 or 1966. Tried-and-true standards include “My Ship,” “My Kind of Town” and “Angel Eyes.” “Big Jim” and “P.C.T.” are Broadnax instrumentals.
Paul Broadnax did not record again for almost 30 years. In 1994 he released It’s About Time on Brownstone Records. That same year, Champ Jones died on Christmas Day. Tony Sarni passed in 2011.
Even if Paul Broadnax recorded infrequently, he entertained countless audiences over countless nights with his later trios—with Dave Trefethen and Peter Bodge, and most recently with Peter Kontrimas and Les Harris Jr. There were long-running gigs at the Bay Tower Room, the Bull Run in Shirley, the Stone Soup Cafe in Ipswich, the Acton Jazz Cafe, and most recently at Thelonious Monkfish in Cambridge. He leaves behind many friends.
Listen to the Paul-Champ Three
To the music. Introducing the Paul-Champ Three is not a great record, but it does document how Paul Broadnax sounded in the mid 1960s. I’ve uploaded one vocal and one instrumental track from Introducing to my YouTube channel. First is “My Ship,” and the influence of Paul’s idol, Nat Cole, is all over this one. There’s some Joe Williams, too—and Joe liked Nat Cole as much as Paul did.
The instrumental is “P.C.T.,” for Paul, Champ and Tony. Paul shows an Oscar Peterson influence here, but it also feels a bit like the mid-sixties Ramsey Lewis Trio, with their popular “let’s party” sound. I’ll bet this one got people out on the dance floor!
More Broadnax: Tom Hall’s ImprovLive 365 series includes eight sessions with Paul Broadnax—five interview segments and three performances. Recommended! You’ll find the series on YouTube.