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Charles Brown pioneered a sophisticated form of post-World War II blues that was part slow blues, part mellow jazz. Brown's smooth music inspired the likes of Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Little Richard and countless others who later became much wealthier than their idol. Over the past decade, a new generation of listeners has fallen in love with Brown's music, thanks mostly to the efforts of Bonnie Raitt, who invited Brown to tour with her band on the heels of her smash album Nick of Time.. After a triumphant decade of recording and touring, Charles Brown passed away of congestive heart failure last January.
In A Grand Style is a typically mellow collection from Brown, but it's the first time we've heard him alone at the piano. These 10 tunes were recorded during the early '90s when Brown began his fruitful relationship with Bullseye Blues. Brown's vocals are as velvety smooth as ever, but his piano playing impresses the most in this intimate setting. A master instrumentalist, Brown combines the jazzy elegance of Nat King Cole with some roadhouse touches.
There's a frilly, Gershwin-like polish to his fingerwork on "Stand By You," a charming original. He injects Little Walter's "Give Me A Woman" and Van McCoy's "Sorry Baby" with ingenious outbursts of decorative blues, and even shows his classical training on the arpeggio-laden "Charles' Chopin Liszt," which ends all too quickly.
My favorite track is the CD's closer, "Wouldn't It Be Grand." Like John Lennon's "Imagine," this is a poetic plea for brotherhood and civility from one of the 20th Century's most influential musicians. It's a fitting swan song from a true gentleman whose music will live on for many years to come.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.