Photo by Craig Bailey
January 9, 2009
The soothing elegance of sound emanating from professor Leonard Brown’s saxophone could not be heard in club halls for more than 10 years.
“Audience,” Brown says, “is as important as musicians are,” and with many club-goers more interested in participating in social aspects of nightlife as opposed to enjoying live music, he chose not to perform. “I play music for people to listen to,” he says. “I don’t play music for people to talk over.”
But an interest in reviving his career as a jazz saxophonist and the opportunity to play at the Bohemian Caverns—the oldest jazz club in Washington DC, owned by his sons Omrao, a Northeastern alumnus, and Sashi—combined to re-ignite his passion for sharing music he created as far back as the 1960s.
The result? A live CD recorded during two performances at the Bohemian Caverns with an accomplished bassist, keyboardist and drummer from the DC area, who, Brown says, added an energy and integrity to his music. “They played my music better than I do, “ he says jokingly.
The title of the first jazz recording by a Northeastern faculty member, “Suns of Sons,” pays homage to Brown’s sons.
“Their brightness, the brilliance of their lives, is like the sun,” he says. “I’ve shared a lot of joy and happiness in my family’s life.”
The five-song, 61-minute LP includes four original tunes as well as an interpretation of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” a spiritual which Brown says has a powerful legacy in the African-American musical tradition. Over the years, he has performed the song in Boston, in England and in Paris.
“The spiritual is one of the oldest forms of Black American music in the country,” he says. “It was sung during the time of enslavement; it was a song of hope.”
Three movements from what Brown calls the “Family Suite / Sweet,”—“Miss Ann,” “Samira’s Song” and “Sons of Suns”— capture the “soul” and “energy” of his wife, daughter and two sons. “I tried to express musically the essence of what their spirits are about and my feelings for them,” he says. By complete happenstance, he composed each tune in a different key.
“I didn’t think, ‘I want to compose in this key or that key,’” he says. “I compose primarily with the saxophone and use piano to provide harmonic support. For the ‘Family Suite / Sweet,’ I went with what felt right and what sounds resonated with me the most and conveyed the feelings I have for my family.”
“Pentatonia,” written by Brown and fellow musician Jerry Osborne, dates back to Brown’s role in the Afro-American Ensemble, a group established by his brother in Kentucky in the late 1960s. The ensemble’s original music “reflected the whole freedom movement, we, as Black folks, were involved in,” Brown says.
With a 16-bar structure and melody slightly modified over the course of four decades, “Pentatonia,” Brown says, is a “real hip tune. Everybody loves to play it. I’ve been playing it longer than any other tune in my repertoire.”
In September, Brown performed songs from his CD at the Fenway Center for the Northeastern and greater Boston communities. The entire concert can be viewed on YouTube.
“Music is all about the live performance,” Brown says. “If I hit the right note, the audience will resonate with the music and give me energy, which spurs me to go to further heights. It’s a constant communication between the listener and the performer.”
To listen to clips of each song on “Suns of Sons” or to purchase the CD, please visit Brown’s MySpace page at http://www.myspace.com/leonardbrownjoyfulnoise.