Marion Brown made his name as an alto saxophonist after mastering clarinet and oboe, and established himself in the forefront of the free jazz movement.
Born in Atlanta, on Sept. 8, 1931, he moved to Harlem as a teenager. In the 50s he studied music at Clark College, Atlanta and law at Howard University, Washington, DC. He spent 18 months playing the clarinet in an army band on the Japanese island of Hokkaido. In 1962 he moved back to New York to play jazz full time, and was mentored by Ornette Coleman. His first musical exposure came with Archie Shepp, and he quickly gained a reputation after playing on John Coltrane's historic “Ascension.”
Brown recorded “Marion Brown Quartet” (’65) and “Why Not?” (’66) for the ESP label, but it was his significant “Three For Shepp” with Grachan Moncur III and Kenny Burrell on the Impulse label in 1966 that solidified his status as a major innovator. His 1970 release of “Afternoon of a Georgia Faun,” has also become a standout in his career.
Brown toured Europe with vibes player Gunter Hampel in the early 70s, made a series of extremely individual records with avant gardists such as Hampel, Leo Smith, Muhal Richard Abrams and Steve McCall, and led his own groups into the new millennium, although health problems have limited his scope.
He has continued to investigate African American ethnomusicology both musically and academically, and recordings have included the solo “Recollections: Ballads And Blues For Alto Saxophone,” and duos with pianist Mal Waldron. He has written a book of essays on his life and music, also titled Recollections, which was published in Germany in 1985. Brown's dry, breathy alto sound and the tenacious logic of his improvisations mark him as a unique player.