KITCHENER Ontario, Feb. 10, 2016 --- When Brownman Ali, the trumpet player and award-winning electric jazz sensation, takes to the stage at the Boathouse in downtown Kitchener he will have 20 pedals at this feet.
"The rig has 17 pedals, but I have three new ones, so I might crack 20," Brownman said in an interview with New City Notes.
Brown kicks off the inaugural Kitchener-Waterloo Winter Jazz Festival. The show is Thursday, Feb. 18 at the Boathouse in Victoria Park. There is no better way to beat the late-winter blues than to see and hear Toronto-based Brownman Ali perform live.
This is not the jazz of your parents and grandparents. Brown takes the music of the past, and puts his inimitable stamp on it with his electric trumpet. The BROWNMAN ELECTRYC TRIO has Colin Kingsmore on drums, and Brad Cheeseman on bass. Check out Brown's website, www.brownman.com.
Brown has recorded toured with Jay-Z, Quincy Jones and Paul Simon. He has twice played to sold-out crowds in The Jazz Room in Waterloo, and is the natural choice for the Winter Jazz Festival opening concert. This show has a lot of late-career Miles Davis, including Bitches Brew and In a Silent Way. But if someone wants to hear Brown's interpretation of Thriller, he is happy to oblige.
A few weeks ago Brown won the Album of the Year at International Independent Music Awards. Only the latest in a long list of honours. The Village Voice calls Brownman Ali this country's per-eminent trumpet player.
About 10 months ago I was first asked about helping to organize a mini-jazz festival for late winter in Kitchener-Waterloo. I jumped at the chance because I wanted Brown to open this event.
Fans of Hip-Hop, Soul, Funk, Mo-Town and Jazz, love Brown for his modern-electric-jazz arrangements of iconic songs. People like me, a mid-fifites, white, heterosexual who loves Straight Ahead Jazz, was pulled head first into the musical vortex that is Brown's electric jazz.
Brownman is the leader of seven bands, including four Latin bands. He arranges for many other groups too. You read about his accomplishments, awards and honours at www.brownman.com or look at his amazing videos on YouTube.
After finishing university Brown went to New York City, getting an apartment in Washington Heights, and later in Brooklyn. Brown enrolled in the Manhattan School of Music. Later, the legendary trumpet player Randy Brecker took on Brown as a private student.
"I stalked Brecker," Brown said. "My time in New York with Brecker was really my formative period. Transformative."
Brown eventually left the Manhattan School without graduating to focus on his lesson with Brecker. He practised for hours every day.
"I didn't finish the Manhattan School because I found I was getting more out of my lessons with Brecker than the school," Brown said. "I think because with Brecker I could just ask any question and he would give me an answer. And he would give me a very insightful and deep answer that I could go away and work on for weeks."
For five years he lived in New York City and studied under Brecker. But for years before, and years after that period, he regularly visited New York for for more lessons. In all, he spent 15 years in and out of the city, but he never gigged there.
He loves to tell the story about his first night in an apartment in Washington Heights, a neighbourhood at the northern end of Manhattan, bordered by 155th Street, the Hudson River and the Harlem River.
"I am bursting with excitement. Here I am in New York City about to start the great adventure," Brown said.
Brown orders a pizza on his first night in the city, and when the pizza-delivery guy shows up at the door he looks into Brown's apartment and notices the trumpet. He asks about it, and the two start talking. Brown invites the pizza-delivery guy into the apartment to try the instrument.
"He picks up my horn, and on my mouthpiece, and just starts murdering. This dude is fucking-fantastic, one of the best trumpet players I have ever heard. And he's got range and tone," Brown said.
"And he pops the trumpet off his face and he goes: 'That's a great trumpet,' he walks out the door and I never see him again," Brown said. "I am in New York City for hour one, and the pizza man has kicked my ass on my own horn. Welcome to New York. Every day shit like that would go down."
New York is full of super-crazy-talented musicians, and Brown heard them on sidewalks, subway platforms and inside the clubs. So he studied under Brecker and practised every day.
"All the shit you hear now, that's from practising eight hours a day," Brown said. "That's what I did. I went to Brecker and practised. And I went to a tonne of shows."
Last October Brown did his Michael Jackson Thriller tribute to a sold-out crowd at The Jazz Room in Waterloo. That was his second show in the club, but his roots in this region go back more than 30 years.
Brown graduated from a high school in Brampton at 16 with a 97 per cent average. He went to the University of Waterloo and studied physics. But music was always his first, second and last love. Before graduating from UW in 1994, Brown played in several local bands, including Captain Zimbabwe and the Cabinet Shuffle.
"It was all engineers and one lowly physicist," Brown said. "They were really popular. We played the Bomb Shelter. We did a whole bunch of stuff."
Brown also had a band back in those days called Brownman and Enigma, at the beginning of his experiments in electric jazz.
"I played in the Eby Town Brass. I subbed in the symphony in, like, the third trumpet chair," Brown said.
Brown leads seven bands, and is musical director in many others. He runs his own record label, Browntasauas label. He is partner in the recording Euphonic Sound Recording Studio, which is where is award-winning CD Gravitation was made. His home in Toronto's Junction neighbourhood includes a 1,000-square-foot rehearsal space.
"The Junction reminds me so much of Brooklyn," Brownman said. "I spent 15 years in Brooklyn, and when I came to the Junction it was just starting to gentrify, and it took on the same trajectory as Brooklyn."
First a Starbuck's arrived. Then baby carriages, dudes in skinny jeans sporting full beards, top-knots and sleave tatts.
"Now it's a little hip, it's a little expensive for even us. We are like: 'Man, I can't believe we are still even here,'" Brown said. "Because all the artists are getting pushed out because it is too hip now, all the hipsters are coming in."