Wayne Beldsoe: Jazz legacy continues with Keith Brown

Pianist Keith Brown was a little intimidated when it came time to record his debut album.

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Pianist Keith Brown was a little intimidated when it came time to record his debut album.

— When Keith Brown recorded his debut album, "Sweet and Lovely," in France recently, there were a few obstacles to overcome.

"My pops and my wife can tell you - I was kind of uptight," says Keith over lunch at Chili's.

Keith, 27, is the son of Knoxville-based jazz great Donald Brown and has been making his own mark for the past several years in both jazz (including Keith Brown and the New Jazz 4tet) and R&B (Aftah Party). He's also teaching and working on his master's degree in music at the University of Tennessee.

Although he's played on some heavy gigs in the past, including Jazz en T<0x00EA>te Festival in Clermont-Ferrand, France, leading a band of established musicians for his first album was a little intimidating.

"The musicians were all great. The biggest hang-up was just with myself and getting comfortable."

Keith will celebrate the release of "Sweet and Lovely" with a party and performance at 6 p.m. Friday, April 15, at the Knoxville Museum of Art.

Keith and Xavier Felgeyrolles, of the Blue Geodiscs company that Donald records with, had discussed Keith recording an album. Donald had recording dates scheduled around his appearance at the Jazz en Tete Festival, but his arthritis was keeping him from being at his best, so he decided to opt out.

"Xavier already had studio time booked, so he decided to make (Keith's album) happen," says Keith.

Bassist Essiet Essiet, trumper player Stephane Belmondo, saxophonist Baptist Herbin and drummer Marcus Gilmore were enlisted for the date, and Keith assembled a list of songs, including his two originals "Lady In Jazz" and "J Roll."

The originals are the stand-outs on the disc.

Part of what is fun about listening to Brown's album is hearing some inherited techniques utilized differently.

Keith shares the free-flowing technique and soulfulness that are hallmarks of his dad's work, but there's a definite difference.

"Some of the stuff he likes I like, too," says Keith. "Herbie Hancock, P-Funk ... that stuff he passed on to me. But I'm influenced by a lot of modern R&B that he's not influenced by."

A common influence in the family is Stevie Wonder, and one of the selections on Keith's album is Wonder's "Golden Lady."

Keith says Wonder's music was some of the first that really had an effect on him.

"When we first moved here, Mom would have all us kids exercising in the basement and she'd always have some Stevie Wonder going. That was some of the first stuff I picked up on."

Keith says he and his brothers, Kenneth and Donald Jr. (both also musicians), were more into hip hop than jazz as teenagers.

"I guess I started getting into jazz in high school," says Keith. "I think I just wanted to get into music."

And music took a backseat to basketball, but that switched after graduation.

Keith says now that the "first-time jitters" are out of the way, he's ready to record again and he's writing a lot. Unlike a lot of musicians, he enjoys listening to his own album.

"Every time I listen to it it takes me back to that rewarding feeling I had recording it," says Keith. "I learned so much and had so much fun doing it that I wish I could go back and do it again with what I know now!"

He will, however, have to overcome his fear of flying to go all the places he hopes to go.

"I'm terrified of flying," says Keith. "So far, my wife (fellow musician Tamara Brown) has been able to go with me, and she's a big help in getting me on the plane."

Keith is also following in his dad's footsteps juggling teaching with an active performance schedule.

"With teaching, I really love that feeling of helping somebody else," says Keith. "The whole idea of having that kind of impact on somebody."

I get the feeling Keith is just getting started.

n Some final thoughts on the passing of a local jazz legend

When friends and family gather at the Foundry today to celebrate the life of Bill Scarlett I suspect there will be a lot of laughter. Bill was a funny guy and absolutely one of the most passionately dedicated musicians I have ever encountered.

We didn't know each other well. I interviewed him a few times, had some nice conversations when we saw each other at shows, and we regularly traded emails about music and politics (we generally agreed more about the latter than the former).

He could be grouchy in a way that made you like him all the more.

After one interview I asked Bill if he listened to any music that wasn't jazz or classical, and he said something to the effect of he wasn't going to waste his time on it. In Bill's world, there was nothing else. He was probably still grousing about the Beatles.

Sometime last year I sent Bill and some other friends a link to a video of a fellow who called himself "the Mad Drummer." I thought he was hilarious. In the cover of a rock song that warranted absolutely no theatrics, the guy was mesmerizing in putting far more effort into his stage moves than his beats.

I sent it with the message "Drummers: Study the moves! Study 'em!"

Bill sent me back an angry email giving me down the road.

When I told him it was a joke it led to a nice exchange over how visuals have overshadowed real talent and skill in the past few decades.

That was certainly not the kind of musician or person Bill was. He was a musician who always performed with taste and skill. He was a teacher even if players around him were not officially his students, and he taught even those of us who aren't musicians.

Knoxville is a far richer place having had Bill in it, and I know that part of Bill will always live in the people who knew him.

Wayne Bledsoe may be reached at 865-342-6444 or bledsoew@knoxville.com. He is also the host of "All Over the Road" midnight Saturdays to 4 a.m. Sundays on WDVX-FM.

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