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Alto saxophonist Marion Brown was an underappreciated hero of the jazz avant-garde. Committed to discovering the far-flung reaches of improvisational expression, Brown nonetheless possessed a truly lyrical voice but was largely ignored in discussions of free jazz of the '60s and '70s. Brown came to New York from Atlanta in 1965. His first session was playing on John Coltrane's essential Ascension album. He made two records for the ESP label in 1965 and 1966 -- Marion Brown Quartet and Why Not? -- and also played on two Bill Dixon soundtracks. It wasn't until his defining Three for Shepp (including Grachan Moncur III and Kenny Burrell) on the Impulse! label in 1966 that critics took real notice. This set, lauded as one of the best recordings of that year, opened doors for Brown (temporarily) to tour. He didn't record for another two years because of extensive European engagements, and in 1968 issued Porto Novo (with Leo Smith) on the Black Lion label. In 1970, Brown recorded Afternoon of a Georgia Faun for the ECM label, his second classic. This date featured Anthony Braxton, Andrew Cyrille, Bennie Maupin, Jeanne Lee, and Chick Corea, among others. In 1973, he cut his second Impulse! session, Geechee Recollections, with Leo Smith. Brown registered at Wesleyan University in the mid-'70s, studying ethnic instruments and black fife-and-drum corps music and maintained a regular recording schedule. He also recorded with Gunter Hampel in the late '70s and '80s, as well as composer Harold Budd on his Pavilion of Dreams album (issued on Brian Eno's Obscure label), Steve Lacy in 1985, Mal Waldron in 1988, and many others. There are numerous duet and solo recordings that may or may not be sanctioned. Due to health problems, Brown didn't record after 1992. After the turn of the millennium he lived for a while at a New York nursing home before moving to an assisted living facility in Florida. Marion Brown died in October of 2010.
Marion Brown (September 8, 1931 – October 18, 2010) was a jazz alto saxophonist and ethnomusicologist. He is most well known as a member of the 1960s avant-garde jazz scene in New York City, playing alongside musicians such as John Coltrane, Archie Shepp, and John Tchicai. He performed on Coltrane's landmark 1965 album Ascension.
Brown was born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1931. He joined the Army in 1953 and in 1956 went to Clark College to study music. In 1960 Brown left Atlanta and studied pre-law at Howard University for two years. He moved in 1962 to New York, where he befriended poet Amiri Baraka and many musicians including Ornette Coleman, Archie Shepp, Sun Ra, Pharaoh Sanders, Paul Bley and Rashied Ali. He appeared on several important albums from this period, such as Shepp's Fire Music and New Wave in Jazz, but most notably John Coltrane's Ascension.
In 1967, Brown travelled to Paris, France where he developed an interest in architecture, Impressionistic art, African music and the music of Eric Satie. In the late 1960s, he was an American Fellow in Music Composition and Performance at the Cité Internationale Des Artists in Paris. Around 1970, he provided the soundtrack for Marcel Camus' film Le Temps fou, a soundtrack featuring Steve McCall, Barre Phillips, Ambrose Jackson and Gunter Hampel.
Brown returned to the US in 1970, where he felt a newfound sense of creative drive. He moved to New Haven, Connecticut, to serve as a resource teacher in a child study center in the city's public school system until 1971. He composed and performed incidental music for a Georg Büchner play, Woyzeck. In 1971, Brown was an assistant professor of music at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, a position he held until he attained his Bachelor's degree in 1974. In addition to this role, he held faculty positions at Brandeis University (1971–74), Colby College (1973–74), and Amherst College (1974–75), as well as a graduate assistant position at Wesleyan University (1974–76). Brown earned a Master's degree in ethnomusicology from Wesleyan in 1976. His master's thesis was entitled "Faces and Places: The Music and Travels of a Contemporary Jazz Musician".
In 1976 he played alto saxophone on Harold Budd's The Pavilion of Dreams. Throughout his many educational positions, Brown continued to compose and perform. In 1972 and 1976, Brown received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, which he used to compose and publish several pieces for solo piano, one of which was based on the poetry of Jean Toomer in his book Cane. He also transcribed some piano and organ music by Eric Satie including his Messe Des Pauvres and Pages Mysterieuses, and arranged the composer's Les Fils Des Etoiles for two guitars and violin.
In 1981, Brown began focusing on drawing and painting. His charcoal portrait of blues guitarist Blind Lemon Jefferson was included in a New York City Kenkeleba Gallery art show called Jus' Jass, which also included works by artists such as Romare Bearden, Charles Searles and Joe Overstreet.
By the 2000s, Brown had fallen ill; due to a series of surgeries and a partial leg amputation, Brown resided for a time in a nursing home in New York. By 2005 he had moved to an assisted living facility in Hollywood, Florida, where he died in 2010, aged 79.
Pianist Amina Claudine Myers' debut album Poems for Piano: The Piano Music of Marion Brown (Sweet Earth, 1979) featured Brown's compositions predominantly.
Aside from his influence in the jazz avant-garde, several other areas of music have taken interest in Brown's music. Indie rockers Superchunk included a song called "Song For Marion Brown" on their Indoor Living release, and Savath and Savalas released a piece entitled "Two Blues For Marion Brown" as part of Hefty Records's Immediate Action series.
His Name Is Alive performed a tribute concert in 2004, performing solely Brown's music. In 2007, High Two released portions of the concert with studio versions as Sweet Earth Flower: A Tribute to Marion Brown.