Christopher Brown

Word on the Street...

Chris Brown is home father, like son...making music to appeal to the next generation.

-Ken Boddie. Portland, OR.

KOIN 6 News Anchor


Coast-hopping, Jazz-drumming, Chris Brown is back in town!


Brown has gained a stellar reputation as one of the bright new talents on the scene, working with a who's who of Jazz artist.


This quartet is so amazing on so many different levels...go see 'em whilst they still exist in PDX. I really think this one could go a long way in the Jazz world!

-Bob Stark. Portland, OR.

Producer/Sound Engineer Kung Fu Bakery Studio.


He is a uniquely talented performer and educator, and a man in whom I trust and for whom I hold great admiration.

-Conrad Herwig. New York, NY.

Director of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University, NJ, and 3x Grammy Nominated artist.


I used him almost exclusively in my band when he used to reside in the NYC area, as he always brought so much knowledge and artistry to the music. And combined with his multi-instrumentalist abilities, Chris Brown is a unique talent that's not often found.

-Mark Gross. New York, NY.



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The Road Less Traveled

Ever since I was a teenager, one of my favorite vehicles has been the Jeep Grand Cherokee. I’ll never forget when it came out…there was something about both its outer and interior design that felt quintessentially masculine without being alienating or off-putting to a feminine presence (think Sean Connery or “the world’s most interesting man” commercials). And upon my first glimpse of a JGC when it first came out, I knew that—just like Jazz—it was going to be a long love affair that I was going to have with this vehicle. And while it was reluctantly not the first vehicle that I ever owned, it was my second, and has continued to be the only vehicle that I’ve continued to purchase since my first one back in 1998 while stationed at Parris Island, SC., shortly before I left active duty as a Marine.

The reason why I bring attention to this gorgeous vehicle is because there are so many uncanny resemblances between it and my first love [Jazz]. For one, both Jeep and Jazz start with the letter “J”; they have the same number of letters in its name; the stylistic birth place of the modern Jazz vocabulary rests squarely within the musical developments of Bebop, which were being crystallized at precisely the same time as the Army’s adoption of the first Jeep prototype in 1940, whose light 4x4 capabilities would prove useful for the upcoming complexities of WWII; the storied origins of how the name Jeep came into existence is also shrouded in as much speculation as the name Jazz; and the overarching idea of both Jazz and Jeep is that they can address a multitude of problems, which is why the Marine Corps modo of “improvise, adapt, and overcome” can be aptly applied to both. But at the end of the day, the social impact that both Jazz and Jeep share is that they represent a deeply ingrained sense of American ingenuity that’s reflective of our belief in the stories we tell ourselves about our exceptionalism. And because I feel that both Jazz and Jeep continue to represent two of the best modern exponents of American ingenuity, is why I see them as important stalwart pillars of American culture. In short, because they’re both American entrepreneurship personified, is why it’s inconceivable to me that either one could ever lose its relevance, as the indelible mark that they’ve left on the world has long since been woven into the fabric of every society worldwide. So as new technological and stylistic advancements are made within both the automotive and music industry, I firmly believe that Jazz and Jeep will continue to “lead from the front” of their respective formations to blaze the uncharted roads less traveled.


The Jazz Dilemma: What is it, and why should we care about it?


         Back when MySpace was at the forefront of the social media race, an old college friend of mine used to have a good profile tag-line that read “I’d rather be relevant than famous.” But in looking back at that phrase, I could argue now that those who are famous are indeed relevant. I say this because the energy behind our continuous conversations about them make them so. In short, when we entertain conversations about them we’re constantly reassessing (albeit subconsciously) who our morals and values align with so as to identify who is safe to embrace within our inner circle of trust and who to keep at arms-length. Therefore, it can be argued that the sliding scale of a person’s relevance is tied to the amount in which we think we might benefit from having certain types of conversations about them. So if you believe that relevance can be equated to usefulness, then allow me to ask “what is Jazz and why is it worth talking about?”


               As we’ve already seen, and continue to see within the styles of Hip-Hop, Rock, R&B, Pop, etc., they provide the public with more obvious ways of incorporating their perceived values (for better or worse) towards their everyday lives. So in an attempt to make my assertions understood, let’s quickly take a look at one of the most pervasive forms of music to come about in roughly the last 35 years: Hip-Hop.


         It has been said that never in a time throughout the documented history of music have large contingencies of people (especially the youth) ever chosen to identify themselves as being specific products of a musical movement like they do with Hip Hop (i.e. “I am Hip Hop,” “I live Hip Hop,” “I eat, breath, and sleep Hip Hop”). Now granted, during the formative years of Rock & Roll, and even Jazz for that matter, we find that it was also the youth who rallied behind these two movements as well, as they too would periodically use certain aspects of the music to help them pseudo validate some of the energy behind the various opinions that they may have held about the world around them. However, the power of Hip Hop—which really has to do with America’s long standing fascination with anything associated with black male youth—is that its aesthetic is now just as interwoven into the everyday fabric of our society as is the name recognition of Starbucks and Nike. So how does this relate to Jazz? With Jazz being thought of as instrumental music by an overwhelming majority of people who have had no significant history of attempts at learning how to play an instrument well—coupled with a lack of images of modern day Jazz musicians (let alone instruments for that matter)—the public’s relationship to Jazz is generally one of indifference. However, when they do think about some Jazz that they may have liked, it may have been related to a vocalist, as this is one “instrument” that we’ve all tried practicing to be good at behind closed doors. And to further prove my point about the public’s general feelings of indifference about this art form is the fact that the point of consumption for most people happens to be within public spaces where the volume is low enough to be talked over, thus further conditioning an already indifferent public to further regard it as a piece of interior decoration that doesn’t really require ones full attention. A perfect case in point would be when the Grammies had Esperanza Spalding, of all people, performing as background music immediately following her upset over Justin Bieber for “Best New Artist” in 2011 while they made their announcements about the next artist to receive their awards. That wouldn’t have been done to any other artist from another genre of music. So as you can see, what Jazz needs is a total branding overhaul. But in order to do so, it would need to be done in a way that still reflects the hidden values that have helped to sustain Jazz up until this point. So the first step in rebranding this music appropriately lies within an understanding of what it is in the first place.  

            The word Jazz, just like any other style of music, is merely a marketing term. No more, no less. After all, real musicians put their energy into trying to play what they hear, not figuring out what to call what they’re playing. It’s also important to remember that the word Jazz had already been in circulation before it was ever attached to a sound. So a fair etymological definition for Jazz would be that it’s a term that was first used to describe popular American music at the turn of the 20th century, whose roots can be found in both the Blues and Ragtime music. And whereas the Blues is more akin to an African-American sensibility towards early “American” folk music, Ragtime is more reflective of the musics that fall within the lineage of Western European Classical music, and most notably early marches that were championed by people such as John Philip Sousa. However, the important piece of connective tissue between the Blues and Ragtime is the application of the black aesthetic on both of them. So when you combine these two styles, and run them through an early black filter, what you get is a distilled version of the type of Jazz that people such as Louis Armstrong help to champion.

        Now granted, this information is all well and good, but what good can an understanding of Jazz really have on America, as well as the world at large? Well, in the same way that we’re able to extract and apply certain values within sports upon our daily lives, we can also use Jazz as another structural model to evaluate the democratic nature of our relationships to one another. So for those who may be even mildly interested in understanding Jazz a little better, I’d suggest that you start by attempting to aurally identify within a live setting where you think this democracy has either failed or flourished, and then cross reference that with visually observing the reactions of the musicians among themselves, because to recognize the connection between certain musical events and the responses of the musicians to said events, will in fact move you closer to being the type of listener whose just as knowledgeable about what to look for in this music as is someone who would know what to look for within anything from a great bottle of wine to a school that could best serve the needs of their child. And with the game of life having always been about learning how to transform any life situation into an opportunity to respond in the most appropriate way, Jazz music (just like martial arts) is actually the practice of the art of moment-to-moment decision making.  


If Jazz Was a Person...

     This is a question that I’ve thought about for quite some time, and am now deciding to share my thoughts on it. But since this question really encapsulates two other questions, I’ll present them as such, which is to say “What is the visual essence of the quintessential Jazz musician” and “What does such a musician stand for?” And since the manner in which a person presents themselves is simply a reflection of an inward disposition, I’ll start with the latter.


     The culture of the Jazz musician is one that’s largely built upon maintaining a certain level of reverence for not only the musical developments of its earlier practitioners--which mostly refers to the inception of Jazz on up through the 1970’s, and a little bit from the 80's--but also an interest in maintaining the cultural practice of the oral tradition in regards to how the knowledge of these musical developments are passed on from one generation to the next. And since Jazz music is a life-long pursuit, there’s rarely a desire among the Jazz elite to ever gloss over any historical data, as they realize that the road to mastery within this music is more akin to an Olympic marathon than it is to an all-out sprint (think the shelf life of most pop acts). So since we tend to take our time within the process of wading through 110+ years of recorded and published material on the subject of Jazz music, it’s sort of no wonder why our style of speech and dress (to a lesser degree these days) tends to mimic the musicians that we've invested so much of our time trying to emulate. However, with the 1990's having been perhaps the last era where the typical Jazz musician could have a shot at supporting themselves, we now find ourselves in a situation where many are having to do some serious soul searching as they reassess the manner in which they see fit to present both the sound of their music and the ways in which they brand themselves. And so it's only natural that questions regarding authenticity will surface, so as to mitigate any possibility that one might be perceived as “selling out”—which really just refers to the smell test (i.e. if it don’t smell like Jazz, then it isn't). The reason why this might be an issue for many is because we've all been taught to embrace a familial sense of connected-ness to our musical elders. And so the concern here would be the idea that certain stylistic decisions may potentially cause us to fall out of our elders’ good graces--which, for some, may be akin to their parents losing respect for them. So the acceptance of anything that might look or sound like it’s even a tad bit congruent with the ever changing trends within the world of pop culture is one that tends to make many musicians wary in regards to them embracing such strategies. However, for the ones who have a good sense of themselves, they tend to have less of a problem with grappling with these issues, and thus are able to see where there’s both a viable artistic lane and financially profitable path for them to explore. But for the rest (which probably represents the majority), they tend to grapple with notions of self-identity within this market economy. So in regards to how all of this is reflected within how we look is of course somewhat subjective, as there’s still the factor of where you currently live, or perhaps grew up, that also plays a role in how one chooses to present themselves. But generally speaking, my observations have been pretty consistent among all the places that I've either lived or have visited throughout the world over the past 19 years, which I'll share with you now.


     From what I've seen, the culture of Jazz is rather quite in that it seeks to make the point that it doesn't need any flashy gimmicks for it to be relevant, or seem important. And in fact, it prefers to use its distance from any of the gimmick related devices that are typically employed by pop culture as a litmus test for how well constructed its music and performance of said music actually is. And since no one becomes a Jazz musician for the prospect of wealth, means that there can sometimes be an air of “this is me…take it or leave it.” So this raw, and sometimes jaded persona of the struggling artist, can be seen in how they dress. Typically speaking, in the larger metropolitan areas, where there are more obvious opportunities for economic advancement, you’ll tend to see more musicians make the attempt to emulate the fashion of those who are considered captains within their industry, as they possess the funds to hire those musicians who look something like themselves. So when you compare the fashion sensibilities of a CEO in a major city like NYC or LA, as opposed to a much smaller city somewhere in the U.S., you’ll see what I'm talking about in regards to the similarities between the look of these two business owner archetypes and the musicians that they have the potential to hire. In fact, a perfect summarizing quote for this point can be found in the movie “Remember the Titans,” when one of the football players says one of the most memorable quotes throughout the whole movie, which is that “Attitude reflects leadership.” However (as a general rule of thumb), given that Jazz musicians don’t gravitate too much towards ideas of total conformity, means that we’ll always look for ways of improvising with what we have on so as to reveal our true identity. And for musicians who have really found their own voice, they tend to have also found their own set of convictions in life as well, as once again, one’s outward appearance or disposition is generally a reflection of their inward conditioning. Therefore, the better the musician, the more successful they’ll tend to be in knowing how to play within the framework of what they’re wearing so as to be respectful of the general vibe of the look that they’re going for (especially while dressed up), but with a little something extra that’s reflective of their true nature.