CHAT WITH ROB BROWN
FRED JUNG: Let's start from the beginning.
BROWN: When I was a kid, my older brother played saxophone and he had
a lot of Charlie Parker records. That got me into it. I just wanted to
play an instrument. We had another saxophone in the house. I actually
wanted to start on clarinet, but we had a saxophone, so that is how I
ended up playing saxophone. I took lessons at one very short period. I
can barely remember it. It wasn't very serious. I didn't really study
seriously until I got to college. I was really into playing, but I didn't
have an academic approach to it at all or a studying approach until I
got to college.
FJ: Early listening pleasures?
BROWN: At that time, when I was in junior high school, all kinds of stuff,
whatever was on the radio, top 40 and also whatever kind of jazz stuff
I could get, big band stuff and jazz records that were available to me.
He also had one Eric Dolphy record and I remember I was in the jazz band
at school, a big band, so I had some records like that, some big band
FJ: You were a former student at Berklee.
BROWN: I attended Berklee and I studied saxophone with Joe Viola. I had
an assemble class with John LaPorta. He definitely had an impact on me
in that short, this was like my first semester or something. I didn't
know too much of what I was doing at that time, I didn't have any private
lessons with him, but it was just the way he talked about ensemble playing
and improvising with an ensemble.
FJ: You have had a close association with Matthew Shipp.
BROWN: Matt Shipp and I had a mutual friend, who lived in L.A. for quite
a while. I went to school with him. My first year of college, we both
went to James Madison University in Virginia. After that, I ended up going
to Boston and he went to another school. He ended up in Boston at N.E.C.
(New England Conservatory) and Matt was at N.E.C. and so that is how I
met Matt. We just started playing together and started playing together
a lot and we moved to New York around the same time. He moved here a couple
of months before me. When we got here, we formed a group and played duo
and trio pretty regularly, like a few times a week for a while. In certain
ways, we were developing along similar lines. We both wanted to get out
of Boston. It seemed to us, at the time, a stifling atmosphere there and
New York had a much more open atmosphere with jazz and improvised music.
We were both interested in a lot of the same things like Cecil Taylor
and Albert Ayler and other musicians and composers. We just worked together
a lot and developed our mutual and individual concepts a lot through just
playing all the time and talking about music everyday and listening to
music together. He has gone, in a certain way, he's always been an iconoclast,
but he's over the years, gone in different directions and lately, incorporating
a lot of contemporary, mainstream elements, I don't mean mainstream jazz,
but hip hop and stuff like that, in some of his recordings. He has become
a producer for the Thirsty Ear label. He is a very career-minded and driven
person. He is extremely so. He thinks about it and lives it all the time
and so he has been very successful in getting his vision and his concepts
and his music across to people.
FJ: And Joe Morris?
BROWN: I actually heard about Joe through Matt Shipp's roommate back in
the Eighties, who was a guitar player. So I just called him up and asked
him to come down and play with me and Whit Dickey. He wanted to come down
to New York to get together and just play and we did that a few times
and made a record. Joe is somebody who always has a lot of groups going
at once. He has got interesting concepts for groups. He is always kind
of eagerly pursuing them. He is a very original player. I think the records
that we've made have been unique records. He is an important person of
my musical associates. We should have a new record coming out this fall
on his label, Riti. He is playing a lot of bass now. He is playing bass
FJ: William Parker?
BROWN: William, I met shortly after '84. I got here in '84 and I guess
I met him in '85. I asked him to come over and play with this drummer.
It was the same drummer that Matt Shipp and I were working with at the
time. William came over and William was very open to, as far as I know,
I don't think he had heard me play or anything, which is a great thing
that he would do that, just get together with unknown people and come
over and play. Sometimes people are busy and they don't have time for
dealing with people that they think are kids and don't know what they
are doing. Anyway, he came over to play and after that, he asked me to
do a couple of things. That musical relationship has been really as important
as any musical relationship that I have, if not more so. More often than
not, when I tour, it will be with William. I have been on maybe ten to
fifteen of his recordings, I don't even know. We have a new record out
now, a Little Huey record. There is another Little Huey record that will
come out in the fall. That one is about five years old. The new Little
Huey is on Splasc(H). I think it is just called Spontaneous. There is
one that is coming out on Black Saint and I believe that is coming out
in the fall. We went to Italy and we recorded that live in Italy. They
have been sitting on it for many years and so I am glad to see it come
FJ: In comparisons to the before mentioned trio of associates, your recorded
discography as a leader is limited.
BROWN: There have been periods where I definitely wish I had done more.
Some of the reasons for that are just financial. To get together and pay
people to go into the studio just to produce this tape without having
a backer can be difficult if you don't have some funds put out there.
More recently, I have some more things coming out. Hopefully, that pace
is going to pick up a little bit. It is picking up some. I have a new
trio out with William and Warren on Bleu Regard. I have a solo CD, which
is a real, small enterprise. It is out. It has just come out. Solo is
easy to record and I don't have to worry about paying anybody. I also
have a quartet CD coming out on Marge, which really should have been out
by now. A lot of times, with the smaller record labels, they run into
various difficulties along the way and things don't come out when they
should. Hopefully, that will be out in the fall. That is a quartet with
me and Roy Campbell, William Parker, and Hamid Drake. Hopefully, I can
continue at a better pace. I definitely was dropping. If you are not putting
out at least one CD a year, that is not very good. I think about two a
year is decent.
FJ: You mentioned the solo recording and you are doing a solo concert
at line space line, here in L.A.
BROWN: I haven't been doing it a lot lately. It is something I have done
off and on through the years. I have never gone on tour just playing solo
or anything. It has always been part of what I do. The most recent performance
solo I did was the recording.
FJ: Did you live on the left coast?
BROWN: I did. I lived out there for eight months, ten months or something.
I lived in the Bay Area. I lived in Berkeley and I also started going
out there once a year for a while because my wife lived grew up out there
and her grandmother lived out there. Before that, I had never been to
L.A. or that part of California, so I actually kind of familiar with it
now. The last time I was there, I did play with some local musicians,
but that is about it.
FJ: You are doing a week with Henry Grimes at the Iridium.
BROWN: Yeah, I was supposed to, when I originally got the thing in L.A.,
Jeremy Drake told me that Henry Grimes would be playing the other set
that night and at the end, we could all play together. I thought that
would be nice. It would be great to play with Henry. When the Vision Festival
came, I knew that Henry would be playing as a guest during William Parker's
piece. William suggested that I ask him to play with us in my set. My
set at the Vision Festival was a duo with William. So instead of it being
a duo, it was a trio. I asked Henry to play and as far as I know, that
was his first performance in New York since 1968. It was a really special
performance for me. The music felt really good and he is on some of my
most favorite records. To have this person reappear after everybody thought
he was dead is a pretty great thing. We have a memorial at the Vision
Festival every year and the ironic thing was the Grimes thing, which was
a reverse memorial, I guess. That was really a special night of music.
I am not sure how it came about that the gig was set up at the Iridium
that is coming up this week because those gigs are set up far in advance,
but I guess they heard about him and they wanted him to do something.
We are sharing the bill with the David S. Ware Quartet. Henry's group
is going to be me, Roy Campbell, Andrew, and Michael, and I haven't heard
FJ: So this isn't a working band.
BROWN: No, so I talked to Henry briefly about it, but tomorrow is the
first gig and we're getting together at sound check. I've played with
Roy a lot and played with Andrew a little bit in Reggie Workman's group.
The drummer, I don't know at all, so it will be interesting.
Fred Jung is the Editor-In-Chief and is Wang Chunging tonight. Comments?