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Paul Brown

After years of producing some of smooth jazz' most prominent stars, Paul Brown is returning to his first love of performing as he debuts his solo CD Up Front. Brown says that performing as a musician is "the ultimate musical expression."

Brown started his musical career a lot like many performers, growing up in the business through their parents. Bill and Sue Allen worked in the Los Angeles recording industry as vocalists and arrangers and worked not only with many people in movies, but also with Nat King Cole, Dinah Shore, Red Skelton, the Smothers Brothers, Glen Campbell and Sonny and Cher, with their TV variety shows.

The Allen’s took Paul Brown to many of their sessions where they worked with Frank Sinatra, Mel Torme, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Nelson Riddle and Henry Mancini. Brown enjoyed seeing what it took to make a great TV variety show. He says, "All the top performers of the day would come through. I'm hoping that one day it will all come back. It would be great. The other thing that was cool was that they had a real variety of talent. Ed Sullivan had everything from The Beatles to Sinatra in one show and he didn't care."

Brown says, "It was a great way to grow up and learn about music." He learned the performing side of music beginning at the age of five by playing the drums. Brown says, "My folks bought my first drum kit from Henry Mancini. I took drum lessons from my uncle Al Goodman, who toured with Johnny Mathis and Vicki Carr."

Brown took lessons with Goodman until the age of 15 when he started to see what other people in the studio were doing. He says, "I always thought the coolest guy in the room was the recording engineer, so I started working as an assistant engineer at the age of 16." Brown continued his work as a professional drummer until he was 23, but then became an apprentice engineer to three of the best engineers in the business, Al Schmitt, Lee Hirshberger and Tommy LiPuma. With LiPuma, Brown got to work with artists as diverse as Ry Cooder, Randy Newman and Van Halen.

Paul Brown has produced some of smooth jazz' greatest, including Boney James, Kirk Whalum, Peter White, Rick Braun, Larry Carlton, Richard Elliott, Euge Groove and Norman Brown. Brown's Just Chillin' title track won a Grammy for best pop instrumental in 2002. He says, "The job of the producer is to take the artist that you're working with at that time and get the best of what they have to offer in their own particular style not change 'em and try to make them sound like something else, but make a pedestal, surround them with the best of the best and try to arrange the songs in a way that shows their talent."

One thing that Brown believes that people don't realize is just how good smooth jazz instrumentalists are. He says, "They show a great deal of restraint when they make the records. I played a gig the other night here in LA and Boney James and Rick Braun came down and played with me. Those guys are just off the charts in terms of their abilities. We did a couple songs they did together and they just tore it up." Peter White, who Brown produced six tracks on White's newest CD Confidential is an artist who Brown says "Can pick up any instrument and play, and he sounds great. He's a great keyboard player and one of the only people I ever met that can take any song from any era. If he ever heard the song, he could pick up the guitar and play it with accompaniment and make something out of it."

Paul Brown worked with many smooth jazz instrumentalists. He has also worked with a lot of fine vocalists. Brown has done two releases with Al Jarreau and says, "He's an amazing artist and just so talented. Everything he does is artistic. You almost have to rein him in to make him less that way. We did a duet with him and Joe Cocker and that was a lot of fun. Just the hand gestures alone were out of control." On George Benson, Brown says, "Every phrase he plays has some historical value. You can hear Count Basie or Duke Ellington or whoever, you hear influences in every note he plays. That is what is so impressive about him."

After producing many instrumentalists and vocalists, Brown says he has been influenced by them to make his debut CD Up Front, his own. Brown says, "All these people that I have worked with over the years definitely had a big effect on my melodic ideas, and the way an instrument can lead a track and not just be an accompaniment. You can get a long way with a simple phrase if you play it directly." "Up Front, Brown continues, "really represents where I am musically on the guitar and has a lot of influences from people I listened to over the years. It has a lot of what's been in my head and in my heart for the last ten years. Everybody's got their musical story and mine just took a minute to evolve and there it is."

Paul Brown has worked the past 15 years with some of music's best. With a period of two months where he didn't have any recording sessions scheduled, he finally went and recorded his own take on music. Up Front is finally where Paul Brown should be and hopefully remain for years to come. Hard work, passion and family values do pay off.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Paul Brown
  • Interview Date: 3/1/2004
  • Subtitle: Up Front
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