OSCAR BROWN JR. / “Brown Baby”
It was the early, early sixties. Early one morning I saw Oscar Brown Jr. on the Today Show promoting “Kicks And Company,” a musical he had written that he was trying to get produced on Broadway. The show never made it that far but Brown got my attention, plus I was not the only person who noticed. Shortly thereafter he released Sin & Soul which in short order became one of the all-time classic jazz vocal albums. The album has subsequently been re-issued with five extra tracks taken from a now out of print album. It’s not just the quality of Oscar’s vocal work that makes this a classic album. Not only did Oscar write all the lyrics, except for five of the seventeen tracks, Oscar also wrote the music for all seventeen songs. It’s a very, very impressive feat. No other vocal jazz album matches from a compositional stand point. Whether fitting lyrics to pre-existing jazz standards, or up-dating folk songs, or composing contemporary mini-portraits Oscar Brown Jr. had no peer. Later in the seventies I was blessed to check out his musical “Joy” that had a San Francisco run featuring his wife Judy Pace and Brazilian musician Sivuca. In the eighties I would encounter Mr. Brown at conferences in his hometown of Chicago. One particularly memorable occasion was a talk he gave on the hardships of maintaining one’s integrity in the hard, hard effort to produced meaningful music while working in the music industry. By the end of his presentation he was literally crying—and he was not alone. Many of us in the audience had tears in our eyes as he laid out the terrible costs extracted—he wasn’t asking for pity nor sympathy. He was just saying… just quietly telling us the terrible truths of his life experience. It’s rough but he never gave up. Never. At another time perhaps I’ll go further into the Oscar Brown Jr. story but for now, I’d just like to share with you a double handful of tracks from one of the true classic jazz vocal albums. This is essential music. Essential. Don’t just enjoy this music—embrace it. —Kalamu ya Salaam
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