The long road to success. Ken Brown's Musical Journey
I knew at an early age that I was destined to express myself with music. I've always longed to touch hearts and minds with the special depth and breadth possible only through the intimate sound of the guitar.
A look at Ken's formative years confirms this. The son of a night club singer and dancer, he was exposed early on to the rhythms of latin jazz. The guitar was to become his vehicle for expression.
In high school he formed his own rock group The Interns, and became known as a hot guitar soloist. These rock and roll days saw him playing with many talented bay area artists such as Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead, Dave Jenkins of Pablo Cruise, and Lydia Pense of Cold Blood, came over to sing a few tunes. I remember teaching guitar for Mickey Harts' dad at his music store. This was several years before Mickey joined the Grateful Dead. After hours, I practiced judo with Mickey, who held a black belt, and when business was slow Mickey showed me drum rudiments.
Joe Bennett lead guitarist of the Sparkletones, one of the first rock & roll groups featured on Ed Sullivan's T.V. show, worked at the store. He taught me some of his guitar tricks and believe it or not, taught me my first classical guitar piece. He was one of the nicest guys you'd ever want to meet.
The Vietnam war broke up the band, and as drugs were becoming part of the rock scene I had to choose between commercial success and the drugs that were part of it, -- or the challenge of classical and jazz guitar. Fortunately, I was led to choose the challenge to personal and musical growth which classical and jazz guitar provided.
Although nowadays contemporary players like Satriani and Yngwie Malmsteen have been heavily influenced by classical music and it is fun to hear how the classics have informed their styles.
After playing classic guitar for a few years, I met one of Segovia's students, William Snowden, who had won the Alirio Diaz guitar competition in Caracas Venezuela. I played for him and we became fast friends and mutual inspirations . He introduced me to the music of Antonio Lauro, and I in turn introduced him to Jorge Morel's music. Later I was fortunate to be able to study with his teacher, the acknowledged master of the classical guitar, Andres Segovia
Ken went on to study at the San Franciso Conservatory of Music, in the meantime worked with the most important and influential guitarists of the day, such as the legendary classical guitarist Pepe Romero.
I remember the day I met Pepe Romero. My date and I had arrived early for a concert Pepe and his brother Celin were to give at Notre Dame in Belmont; we very much wanted to meet them. Pepe and his brother were most kind to us. Pepe invited me to play for him, using his guitar. From then on, he made himself available as my teacher whenever he was in town. This was fortunate, since as a teacher he is in great demand. He was a model of compassion and intense concentration. I marveled at his ability to not lose concentration while practicing as his three daughters tugged at him for one thing or another.
A Quantum leap in his education came with his study with Jazz guitarist and educator Howard Roberts, founder of G.I.T. Later study with Joe Pass,, and Barney Kessel, and with Brazilian guitarist and composer/arranger, Laurindo Almeida , rounded out his education.
Jorge Morel, another guitar master,and composer/arranger, whose Argentinian and South American style music enthralls audiences world wide, invited Ken to visit and study with him in New York.
It was a dream come true; here was a guitarist and composer whom I had long admired for his incredible music and wonderful Latin rhythms, inviting me to stay and study with him!
Having been an admirer of the great Jazz guitarist Joe Pass for many years, Ken was thrilled when in 1991 Joe agreed to give him an audition and lessons during the time Joe was playing at Yoshi's, a local jazz club in Oakland.
This was a memorable moment for me as I knew that Joe didn't take private students often. I felt extremely privileged to be able to share some time with this most awesome player. I had many questions, but he with his typical down to earth bluntness was able to cut through to the most important things
Ken was also invited to attend a recording session with Joe Pass at The Record Plant in Sausalito, not to mention being invited as Joe's guest to his club dates. Shortly before Joe's untimely death in 1994, Joe visited Ken's studio and took an interest in furthering his career and discussed possible projects together. Ken has a video as a momento of this special time with Joe. Joe's wife Ellen asked Ken to write some remembrances of Joe for the magazine Just Jazz Guitar. It was a special collector's edition tribute to Joe Pass.
Another one of the greats,Laurindo Almeida , now no longer with us, contacted Ken to work on a score together. This has been another dream come true for Ken, as Laurindo was one of Ken's earliest role models for Latin and Brazilian jazz.
Finally, due to his excursions into Gypsy Jazz, Ken met and jammed with the great Birili LaGrene, along with Lulo Reinhardt.
The style Ken has developed, due to a wide range of influences, gives his concerts a unique flavor and has entranced an ever-widening audience. Living in the heart of silicon valley, Ken has explored the use of computers in music education and has written compositions and arrangements using the computer. He composed and performed music for the Peninsula Ballet, and is presently working on a method for jazz guitar. During one Christmas season, Ken was asked to accompany the Peninsula Women's Chorus in a recording of San Francisco composer Kirke Mechem's music.
When not performing, arranging or composing, he spends much of his time passing on his knowledge to a handful of faithful students at his Menlo Park studio, and managing his publishing company, TouchSounds® , a new endeavor to make his arrangements and other contemporary composers music available to guitarists.