Our Artistic Director Interviews Portland Jazz Master Mel Brown

In anticipation of the world premiere of the 2017 Portland Jazz Master Mel Brown’s Big Band w/ Jon Faddis & the Jimmy Mak All Stars in just two weeks on Wednesday, February 22, PDX Jazz Executive Artistic Director Don Lucoff had a Q&A with Brown about this special show, the passing of our dear friend Jimmy Makarounis, and more. Feel free to read on…

What is your recollection of Washington High School and the auditorium where you performed as a high school student? Did you ever think that what was then would now be Revolution Hall?

I never thought Washington High School would ever close, let alone become a performance center.

PDX Jazz is honored to have you as our Portland Jazz Master and we were pleasantly surprised that having a special big band performance will be your first time ever assembling one. We’re you surprised by the request? Any particular reason that you have not done a big band project like this before?

I was very honored to be considered as Portland Jazz Master. I had a rehearsal big band back in the 70s with Thara Memory. However I never had the chance to perform around town because I had a drum shop business to run. And I was still the drummer for the Temptations and the Supremes. Hence, I was always on tour.

2013-january-february-1859-magazine-best-of-oregon-best-musician-band-mel-brown-quartet-runner-upThere have been some pretty impressive drummer lead big bands or special projects in jazz over the course of history-Chick Webb, Mel Lewis, Buddy Rich, Art Blakey, Kenny Clarke, among others. Any thoughts on what it means to have a drummer lead a big band?

I love drummer-led big bands. Mel Lewis was a friend of mine and we often talked about our experiences playing in such a setting.

With the closure of Jimmy Mak’s, the top jazz club in Portland, how will that impact the scene? You were such a fixture there. Will we see you emerge at a different location on a regular basis besides Salty’s and Portland Prime?

I don’t have a spot picked out as yet to showcase the band. I would like to move around outside of Oregon on occasions and test the waters to see how we stack up with other bands.

What are you most looking forward to in working with Jon Faddis?

It will be an honor to perform with such a dynamic performer.

How has Dizzy Gillespie been an influence on you? I know you play many of his tunes regularly.

I’ve always loved the energy he exuded to his audiences. In the late 70s my trio (George Mitchell and Phil Baker) was the opener for Diz in Medford, OR. I was honored when he complimented me on my concept of time as I reminded him of “Philly Joe” Jones, and Art Blakey.

Jimmy Mak’s passing the day after the club closed is such a huge loss for the community. He meant so much to so many people in Portland. Can you reflect on your long-standing relationship with Jimmy?

Jimmy was a big brother that I never had. He tried to teach me about surviving in the music club business. And I am so grateful for his tutoring.

We are excited to learn that you are going to re-assemble your original septet for the Jazz Festival on your tribute night. I understand that this was your first group to play in Jimmy Mak’s on a regular basis?

I am looking forward to acknowledging the former members (Warren Rand, Andre’ st. James, and Thara Memory), for all their hard work to keep the Septet together. Thara may not be able to perform. But I want people to know about the founding members.