By Brian Soergel
Norman Brown is the Grammy Award-winning musician with an infectious smile, adoring fans and a career allowing him to share his passion.
But the most important thing in his life is his family. He’s got six centered and self-assured kids, and even three grandkids. As another Father’s Day fell last month, Brown was in his element.
“My kids all make a big deal about it,” he said, not even trying to hide the pride in his voice. “I just roll with it. We do something simple, a dinner, a movie, come home and laugh. I’m so proud of my kids, all of them.”
The other important thing in his life, which ties into the first, is love: for his family, for his friends, for his fans.
“I’ve always believed love is the strongest energy in the universe,” he said.
In fact, Brown says his new CD, Sending My Love, is all about that strongest of human emotions. Family and love come together, for example, on one track, the CD’s only cover––Kenny Loggins’ “Celebrate Me Home.” It has Brown in a duet with his daughter Rochella. Another? Brown singing on “I’m Pouring My Heart Out,” a love song filled with metaphorical devices co-written with his godson Melvin Moore III, who also sings.
The biggest love is saved for last with “One Last Goodbye.” It’s written for the late basketball and smooth jazz superstar Wayman Tisdale, who was to join Brown in 2009 for the first time on the guitarist’s popular Summer Storm tour. Tisdale died on May 15 at age 44 after battling cancer.
“We lost him about three days before starting rehearsal,” Brown said. “We started off at MoJazz together, and we hadn’t really worked together since those days. That hit me hard. So I was thinking about lovers that we lose, and lovers we still have around us, and how can I do a song that gives us a guide.”
It’s obvious that the entirety of Sending My Love is a gracious and heartfelt gift to his fans. They’ll certainly take to his trademark trills, quick alternations between two adjacent notes on the guitar. Like his previous CD, 2007’s Stay With Me, the new music and melodies are reminiscent of his early fan-favorite CDs, especially After the Storm from 1994.
“I’ve been reading my website, doing my autograph signings, reading my fan letters, and it seems like there’s so much love out there for me. My thought was to give love back. I tried to make sure to include the elements that I felt like fans fell in love with––the guitar playing and my vocals, my songs. So I wrote a batch of songs I thought had relatable grooves, easily digestible melodies, and really feature the guitar and the vocals. There’s a lot of guitar solos and I let the vamps go at the end.”
Love and family also extend to Brown’s latest edition of the Summer Storm tour, which will be featured this month as part of the Hyatt Regency Newport Beach Summer Jazz Series and Smooth Jazz 98.1's (KiFM) Jazz at the Beach series at the Oceanside Pier Amphitheater in San Diego County. This year’s show has vocalist Brenda Russell and, new to the tour, vocalist Phil Perry and saxophonist Jessy J.
“Phil’s a singing gymnast,” Brown said. “He can sing from the sky all the way down to the ground. And I’ve been watching Jessy J’s career lately, and she sounds fabulous. They’ve been wonderful additions.”
The show also has Brown’s longtime musical director, keyboardist Gail Jhonson, as well as keyboardist Traviso Milner, bassist Rob McDonald and drummer Iajhi Hampden. Rochella Brown, a student at Berklee College of Music in Boston, also joins her father for the third straight year. A highlight is surely “Celebrate Me Home,” which on the CD features the Sounds of Blackness choir. Brown says his daughter suggested the song to him because she knew he wanted to dedicate a song to her sister Kesha, who graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point and is now serving in Iraq. She is also a bass player and singer.
“All the troops and the families, we all want to celebrate them home, you know?” said Brown.
Brown, 46 and raised in Kansas City, Kansas, is certainly home in Southern California’s San Fernando Valley. He’s lived there since moving to L.A. to pursue his musical career, which included studying at the Musicians Institute.
“My friends told me I’d lose my feeling for music,” said Brown, whose guitar idols include Wes Montgomery, George Benson, Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana and Prince. “But I wanted to learn music theory, because I thought it would only make me better and broaden my appeal.”**
** **The complete Norman Brown story can be found in the July issue of Smooth Jazz News. Pick up your free copy at our radio station affiliates (see radio station page for listings), various concerts, festivals and select Southern California outlets. Or you can subscribe and receive 11 issues of Smooth Jazz News per year, mailed monthly (except January), for $35. Click here to subscribe online today.
For more information on Brown, including his complete tour schedule, visit www.normanbrown.com.
Hyatt Regency Newport Beach Summer Jazz Series
Hyatt Regency Amphitheater
1107 Jamboree Road
Newport Beach, California
Gardena Jazz Festival
Rowley Memorial Park
13220 S. Van Ness Ave.
Thornton Winery's Champagne Jazz Series
32575 Rancho California Road
Clearwater Jazz Holiday
301 Drew St.