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Deborah Brown: Jazz Diva Extraordinaire

By Published: May 26, 2009
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Goals and Projects

AAJ: What are your current and future interests?

DB: Well, first of all, I've recorded about 22 CDs over the years, maybe more. They sell out pretty fast, and then they're gone, out of print. We're finding out that people want to hear those older CDs, so what we're trying to do is to incorporate the CDs from the past into compilations. Currently, it's frustrating for people to go on my Website and not be able to order them.

So we want to make those recordings available again. Those Internet bootlegs are taking over, and there's no way to stop it, so we've got to make it available directly from us.

AAJ: The authenticity of the product is important. And the liner notes are important, and the bootlegs don't include them.

DB: That's a good point. I think that people who really love jazz want to have a product in their hands, and they want to read about it, so the booklets are very important. Most of my records manage to include all that. One advantage we have is that we own all our recordings, and just leased them to the record companies for a limited number of years.

In addition to my ongoing recording sessions, I'm on my way to Europe again soon. I just recorded a tribute to Ivie Anderson

Ivie Anderson
Ivie Anderson
1905 - 1949
, who was Duke Ellington's primary singer. Most people know Elllington's hits through her. She died young, in her 40s, but she left a fantastic legacy. My tribute is on Challenge Records, a Dutch company, released in 2008. It's called For the Love of Ivie.

AAJ: Do you tour in the United States? I'm amazed that I've never come across a notice of a live performance by you in Philly or New York.

DB: I don't tour often in America. I might go to the East Coast every once in a while. I did the Cape May Jazz Festival. I love to go to Nashville and Knoxville. I work with a jazz orchestra there. I work in Kansas City, of course, at the American Jazz Museum. I work in Chicago at the Jazz Showcase and am going to be on their cruise this coming season. But the reason I don't tour so much in America is that I'm world-focused, and that takes up much of my time. Last year I did 10 tours outside the U.S.

AAJ: The history of jazz was written in KC in large measure, so it's not a bad suggestion for jazz fans to visit there and hear you and others who are playing there these days.

Deborah BrownDB: There recently was an article in The New York Times about the Musician's Union, where Charlie Parker used to play in Kansas City. It's a little club, but everyone goes there, and it's open all night long. Friday and Saturday nights. All the young musicians go there, and it can be a real cool scene.

MH: You finish your gig, and you can go there and play until 5 or 6 in the morning. Now they have a liquor license, so it's legal. Count Basie and all those guys were members of this particular union. There was that documentary, The Last of the Blue Devils (1980), and it was a lot about the Musician's Union, and it's still there and happening. A while back we brought over a Russian tenor saxophonist who was on the International Incident record, and a pianist whom Deborah works with in Holland also showed up, and we took them to the Musician's Union, and they got up and jammed for a couple of hours. It was great. It's something that hardly exists anywhere else any more.

DB: And once a year, we bring someone from Europe to KC to play.

AAJ: What else do you have on your plate?

DB: Well, in a peculiar way what makes me a unique singer is that I don't have my own band. I play with musicians all around the world that I've performed with for years, but I don't have a band.

I like to travel, so I use local musicians wherever I go. That puts less travel pressure on the musicians, but it puts more pressure on me personally to come up with music that's not totally complicated, and then it's up to me to come up with interesting singing that entertains everyone, including the musicians. I've developed that to the point where I can go anywhere and play with any musicians, and these days I only play with the best musicians, and that makes me so happy, because I can have the best sound wherever I am.

These days, it's very difficult for musicians to maintain their own band for financial and practical reasons. The guys that you enjoy working with, they're booked ahead for a year, and so on. We had great hopes for a tour with Joe Beck, since it would be just him and Deborah, but Joe's untimely passing ended that dream. Joe could really carry that bass line. He was like two musicians in one. Sadly, he passed away last summer.

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Spirituality and Philosophy of Life

Deborah BrownAAJ: Jazz is rooted in spiritual music—what are your thoughts about spirituality and life?

DB: While many musicians connect their work and their music, I actually don't think they're the same thing. Personally, the way I look at my spirituality, it's all a part of me. I'm not someone who is one way in one situation and someone else in another. I try to be true in everything that I do, so there's a spirituality in everything that I do, and I think that when people hear me, that's how they interpret it, that the music is a part of me. But my spiritual life and my job are two different things. What my job allows me to do is to support my spiritual life. You have to make a living. That supports whatever you want in life- whether family, a car, and so on.

What I want is to have enough money to support my spiritual activities, help my brothers and sisters with whatever they may need. I do volunteer activities. I share my spirituality. So music and spirituality are two different things to me. They're related in principle, but I don't bring my spiritual beliefs into my music. I prefer to keep them private. It's a matter of good taste. My work is my work, and my art is what I'm developing.

AAJ: Just as Johann Sebastian Bach wrote religious music, but was basically a craftsman in his composing, so you are as a vocalist.

DB: I have to think of it that way, because music is not my God. There's a lot more to life than music. My happiness comes partly from music, but it's not the only thing that makes me happy. I've seen musicians who come to life on stage, but they're unhappy on a daily basis, especially as they grow older. I don't want to be that way.

Select Discography

Deborah Brown/Joe Beck, I Found My Thrill (Jazz Voix Records, 2005)

Deborah Brown, International Incident (33 Jazz, 2003)

Deborah Brown, Song Bird (Jazz N Pulz, 2003)

Deborah Brown, Live at the Blue Note (VH Records, 1997)

Deborah Brown, Deborah! (September Records, 1987)

Photo credit

In performance in Belgium: Marc De Clercq

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