Knoxville Jazz Orchestra | Blues Man from Memphis: More from the Musical Mind of Donald Brown

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Blues Man from Memphis: More from the Musical Mind of Donald Brown

by Knoxville Jazz Orchestra

"Donald Brown is the most recent link of an elite group of composers that includes Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington, Tadd Dameron, Thelonious Monk, Horace Silver, Thad Jones, and Wayne Shorter.” - Pianist James Williams
Genre: Jazz: Progressive Big Band
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1. Nancy and the Children's Playground
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9:27 album only
2. Blues for Brother Jerome
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8:56 album only
3. Theme for Malcolm
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7:23 album only
4. Daddy's Girl Cynthia
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7:20 album only
5. New York
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8:56 album only
6. The Scenic Route to Donny's Heart
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9:20 album only
7. The Thing About George Coleman
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7:25 album only
8. Peace for Zim
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10:48 album only
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ABOUT THIS ALBUM


Album Notes
Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis: “Donald Brown is a genius.”

Bassist Ron Carter: “For those who look around and ask, ‘Where is the next great jazz composer? Who is going to lead the music into the 21st century?’ Look no further. Donald Brown is here.”

Pianist James Williams: “It is generally acknowledged that Donald Brown is the premier composer of the 80’s and 90’s. He is the most recent link of an elite group that includes Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington, Tadd Dameron, Thelonious Monk, Horace Silver, Thad Jones, and Wayne Shorter.”

Drummer Art Blakey: “Donald Brown is one of my favorite accompanists with the Jazz Messengers since Cedar Walton and Walter Bishop, Jr.”


The Knoxville Jazz Orchestra’s latest CD, “Blues Man from Memphis” is no ordinary community-based jazz recording. For one, it features performances by four internationally acclaimed artists: bassist John Clayton, vibraphonist Stefon Harris, composer/pianist Donald Brown and saxophonist Greg Tardy. Secondly, the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra is no ordinary community ensemble. The hundreds of devoted fans that flock to each of the band’s performances attest to that. Finally, this recording is extraordinary in that it was conceived, composed and produced by one of the brightest minds in jazz music today: Donald Brown.

You may have never heard of Donald Brown. Don’t let that fool you. His music has been recorded by Art Blakey, Donald Byrd, Wynton Marsalis, Mulgrew Miller, Carl Allen, Terrence Blanchard and many others. Wynton’s recording of Brown’s “Insane Asylum” was nominated for a Grammy in 1988. As a pianist, he has toured and recorded with the likes of Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson, Tom Harrell, Ron Carter and Kenny Garrett. Musicians like these have been touting Brown’s extraordinary abilities for more than 20 years. He has remained below most people’s radar simply because his teaching duties at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville have kept him from the full-time touring circuit for the past 19 years.

Jazz has existed at the University of Tennessee since the late 1950’s. Famed educator Jerry Coker joined the faculty in 1976. Donald Brown was added in 1988. The result of this is several generations of very capable musicians, many of whom still call Knoxville home. These are the musicians who make up the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra. While a lot of time could be spent talking about how tight the ensemble is, how well the band interprets the music, or how generous the band is with their time and energy, all of this will be self-evident when you listen to the music.

What makes this recording so unique is not any one of the aforementioned factors. It is the combination of all of them. It is a rare occurrence when a professional ensemble dedicates itself whole heartedly to the vision of an extraordinary composer and enlists brilliant soloists to top it all off. The result is astounding. Some have said that it is among the most fresh and exciting big band recordings since the passing of Thad Jones. You may agree, but you’ll have to listen to it first. Go ahead...give it a spin. It won’t hurt a bit.


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Joe Ross (Roseburg, OR.)

Crystalline messages with good beat, tempo and melody
Playing Time – 69:35 -- There are many impressive jazz players who can burn a blaze of notes but never seem to say anything. They should study the music of pianist Donald Brown and notice how each of his compositions makes a coherent statement full of character. To make music that is truly transcendent and memorable requires great self-awareness. Brown knows what and how he thinks about his art. On “Blues Man From Memphis,” the eight tracks ranging from 7-11 minutes each have crystalline messages with good beat, tempo and melody.

To deliver them with honest, uncompromising vision, it’s important to recognize the three arrangers of the music who manage to allow for both freedom of expression within the context of rather precise musical statements. While the author of all, Donald Brown arranged “The Scenic Route to Donny’s Heart,” a beautifully woven tapestry of notes, rhythms and dynamics. The wistful reverie has a lavish setting embellished with touches of flutes, horns, guitar, percussion, orchestra bells, and vocals. Bill Mobley arranged “Nancy and the Children’s Playground” and “New York.” Brown’s pieces are largely inspired by people or places, and the former pays tribute to his sister Nancy. Immediately following is “Blues for Brother Jerome,” a more up-tempo lively number that has a bright melodic sheen. A very cohesive unit, The Knoxville Jazz Orchestra is directed by young trumpeter Vance Thompson, arranger of five of Brown’s compositions. Brown says “He [Thompson], along with Bill Mobley, has taken my music, dressed it up in a tux, and left the sandals on.” Thompson’s liner notes recognize Donald Brown’s music as warm, soulful and inviting at its core. Three of the tracks were recorded live in September, 2005 including “The Thing About George Coleman,” a tune with considerable emotional depth that was originally named “Blues Man From Memphis” in honor of the great jazz saxophonist known chiefly for his work with Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock in the sixties.

This album is as much about the musicians too. “Blues Man From Memphis” displays the symbiotic relationship between good songs, solid arrangements and consummate musicianship. The arrangements provide the soloists with plenty of space to stretch out. Brown hails originally from Hernando, Miss. but spent his early years in Memphis as a studio musician before taking a stint in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. Moving to Knoxville in the 1980s, he teaches at the University of Tennessee, tours and performs regularly. Sharing the spotlight with Brown are special guests John Clayton (bass), Stefon Harris (vibes), and Greg Tardy (tenor sax). Graduating from Indiana University in 1975, John Clayton has been associated with the Monty Alexander Trio, Count Basie Orchestra, Amsterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, Clayton Brothers Jazz Quintet, and others. Clayton currently teaches at the University of Southern California. Clayton opens “The Thing About George Coleman” (the re-named title cut) with over two minutes of solo bass that elicits a joyful glee and appreciative applause from the live audience. Greg Tardy’s saxophone appears in the mix of four pieces on “Blues Man From Memphis.” He started as a classical clarinetist but wanted to become a jazz saxophonist the moment he heard the subtle, powerful and heartfelt emotion of John Coltrane with Thelonious Monk. He does some very nice lyrical playing on this album project. Another soulful shade is the undeniable excitement of vibraphonist Stefon Harris, a young New York artist in his twenties who burst on the jazz scene about 1998 and has built an excellent reputation for his performances and recordings.

Prolific and imaginative, Donald Brown gives us some very refreshing and original big band jazz. Building on tradition, his imagination resonates with the innovation of a musician with the stature of Herbie Hancock. With the support of excellent musicians and arrangers, the album’s sum is a very inspiring profile of Brown’s character and the depth of his heart’s spirit. (Joe Ross, Roseburg, OR. rossjoe at hotmail dot com)