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.
I love jazz because it is both challenging and exhilarating, and the endeavor of improvisation is the highest form of art.
I met so many great musicians--including my two earliest heroes, Maynard Ferguson and Dizzy Gillespie--by attending concerts
and being willing to treat them with the respect they deserve.
The best show I ever attended was the Pat Metheny/Ornette Coleman Song X concert at Cornell University.
The first jazz record I bought was an RCA compilation by Dizzy Gillespie.
My advice to new listeners is to not be afraid to listen to something because you're not familiar with the artists or the band or
the genre or anything - this is music that is best experienced through discovery.