A Family Tribute to a Chicago Legend
The first thing that comes into your head when you think about Oscar Brown, Jr. is regret: Oh, if only he were still here! During these times of challenge, on the local and national fronts, we need his passionate, outspoken, fearless voice more than ever. Since his death at 78 in 2005, the singer, songwriter, theatrical force, social activist and voice of the community has been sorely missed.
But Brown’s spirit is very much still alive, continuing to inspire, motivate and amuse us. And the mark he left on jazz is ever-present in the work of musicians young and old. On December 9, his daughters Maggie and Africa Brown, who have done a spectacular job tending to his legacy, will mark the 90th anniversary of his birth by sharing his special gift for vocalese, the art of singing (and swinging) original lyrics set to classic instrumental tracks.
Many jazz artists have attempted vocalese, but few have succeeded as well or as upliftingly as OBJ. Building on the achievement of the great Jon Hendricks, he brought out not only the musical brilliance of such immortals as Thelonious Monk, Lester Young, Miles Davis and Charlie Parker, but also the wit and utter sense of freedom. Maggie and Africa will see to it that the profound humanism of his artistry comes through as well.
“It’s hard to separate me from my father,” Maggie writes on her website. “And why would anyone want to? Being the daughter of a legendary lyricist and performer, I inherited all the old man’s finest qualities – the voice, the mannerisms, the spirit, and the theatricality. It is true – the fruit didn’t fall far from the tree.”
Africa Pace Brown, an award-winning theater artist and dancer whose performance in her father’s musical, “In De Beginning,” won her a Joseph Jefferson Award for best supporting actress, is equally committed to keeping his memory alive. Performing as
2Brown Sisters, the siblings have staged acclaimed revues featuring his compositions, and branched out into other styles of music as well.
Their birthday salute to their old man will feature a top-drawer cast of players, including pianist Alexis Lombre, bassist Chuck Webb, drummer Kwame Steve Cobb and, as an extra added singing treat, the wonderful Bobbi Wilsyn.
“It is my intention to inspire a greater sense of responsibility for the positive outcome of our future,” writes Maggie Brown. We may be heading into some tough times, but with the legacy of Oscar Brown, Jr. spurring us on, there’s no telling what we can achieve, however discouraging the odds.