Interview by Joe Montague
Acoustic bass player John Brown is a phenomenal jazz musician, composer, arranger, bandleader, educator, and one of the most articulate people you will ever encounter. He is creative and thinks outside the box. This year alone he will have released widely divergent recordings, his current album Terms of Art: A Tribute To Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, Volume 1 and a still unreleased CD of ballads, with the tentative title, Quiet Time. Brown is also working on a yet to be titled children’s CD. The buzz is there might just be a John Brown action figure as part of a promotional package designed to bring jazz to where children live. If all that is not enough to wow you about a guy who is still only in his mid thirties, then you may be interested to note that also included on his resume is a degree from the law school at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and that on several occasions he has acted on stage (Blues In The Night).
Like most things that pertain to his music, Brown feels a certain calling to reach out to children, and he views that enterprise as merely a stepping-stone to introducing them to the bigger world of jazz music. “There are many ways that we can reach children, and reach them where they live,” he says.
Brown says, “The children’s project is a compilation of nursery rhymes and children’s songs. It is coming together very nicely. It taps into my (desire) to make jazz accessible to people and to reach children. Let them hear jazz when they are babies. These tunes are recognizable, and we have preserved the melodies, so that people can sing along with them and recognize them for what they are. The songs are presented in a jazz setting and arranged in such a way that people will be able to hear some sophisticated approaches to arranging. I have a group that contains trumpet, trombone, saxophone, vibes, guitar, bass and drums, so people are exposed to a jazz ensemble. The children will hear melodies that are familiar to them and (I think) the adults will be attracted to the arrangements, because we didn’t really dumb down the music, for lack of a better way of saying it. I think that a lot of times we make the mistake of thinking that to make things accessible to children we have to dumb it down. I would argue that we can make music accessible and still treat people as smart as they are, no matter what their age. It will be a two CD set with nine tracks on each disc”
“On the ballad record, which
will be called
there are three original songs, I wrote one, Gabe Evens (pianist) wrote one and
Brian Miller (saxophonist) wrote another. There is a Ray Charles tune that
people likely haven’t heard, because it was just released on a Ray Charles and
Count Basie record. There is also a James Taylor tune, that Peggy Lee did,
“Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight.”
We actually have more music than will fit on
one CD, so there will probably be a follow up to it.
My vision for the CD is to create an
atmosphere in which people can slow down. Our lives get very busy, we get over
involved and don’t really take time to rest. I am the number one example of
that. It is my view that by playing this music for people, they will take time
for their families and themselves. We expect to release (the album) this
summer,” says Brown, as he describes the record, which once again will feature
the same quintet as appeared on
Terms of Art.
The children’s album and the
ballads recording are musical treats the listening public has to look forward
to, but right now jazz fans are enjoying
Terms of Art,
A Tribute to Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers, Volume I.
Brown credits an opportunity that he had to play with post-bop drummer Elvin
Jones, as a source of inspiration that turned him on to Blakey’s music. It was
in studying the techniques of other drummers while preparing for his gigs with
Elvin Jones, that Brown came upon Blakey’s music.
“I would think, ‘I really like the way that Art Blakey
does this or plays that. Who knew that all of these cats used to play with Art?’
I love listening to Wayne Short. I love listening to Branford (Marsalis) and
Wynton (Marsalis) and Chuck Mangione. That made Art’s presence a little larger,”
Brown says reflectively.
Like most musicians who have
come up through the ranks of jazz, John Brown remains impressed with the stamp
that Art Blakey put on jazz music. “Even though his band frequently changed
personnel, there were steady factors in the music and the way that his music was
presented. You can tell by his level of seriousness and dedication that he made
sure the music swung and felt good. The intensity with which he played, and the
standards that he held for all of his bands, really reached out and spoke to me.
We all cut our teeth on certain tunes and
listened to certain people. Most of the people that we listened to played with
Art at one point in time. If I look back, at the things that influenced me in my
career, it would be Art Blakey the musician and the Art Blakey organization that
had so many people coming through it.”
“People have asked, ‘Why are you doing these tunes over again? If I want to hear this song I might as well listen to Art play it.’ I am not trying to recreate anything that Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers did. It is a tribute and just like everybody can report on their individual experiences no matter what the topic is, these tunes are intended to be just that. It is a tribute,” notes Brown.
“Moanin’,” a song written by Bobby Timmons is one of the most widely appreciated tunes that Blakey’s bands performed, and therefore it is fitting that Brown included it on his current CD. “Moanin’ is one of those tunes that you start playing when you first get into jazz. It is a very soulful, spirited song that is filled with emotion. It is meant to make you feel good and to evoke emotions. When I play “Moanin,” I think about the fact I have listened to Art’s groups play it and I watched a video of him playing it. It feels so good, and the harmony speaks to the core of people, with the right tempo and the right intent. “Moanin’,” is a song (that we included), to bring people back home to the roots of the music,” says Brown.
Not all of the songs on Terms of Art, are directly associated with Art Blakey. Brown has included songs which he often refers to as pure, getting to the roots of the music, or reflecting the essence of Blakey’s music. One of the tunes that falls into that category is Quincy Jones’ “Lady Bop.” Brown says that he hopes through his quintet’s the listener will sense the blues progression throughout the song, and feel the emotion that was evoked within him as he performed his solo.
Terms of Art also includes the Dizzy Gillespie song, “A Night In Tunisia,” a song that Brown discovered when he first started to play jazz. He recalls that the cool opening line was what first drew him in.
You can catch the John Brown
Quartet at Artsplosure in
Hey John, how do I order one of those action figures of you? I have a spot already picked out for it.
Interview by Joe Montague, all rights reserved,
protected by copyright © 2007
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Interview by Joe Montague, all rights reserved, protected by copyright © 2007 Return to Our Front Page