Jazz is fun. Jazz is interactive. Jazz is American. Two members of the Steve Brown Quartet, Dino Losito (keyboard) and Steve Brown, talk to The Sun about their music and what to expect at their performance at the Carriage House Café this Thursday night. The show is part of the Jazz Spaces Ithaca project recently launched by Cornell’s Minority, Indigenous and Third World Studies Research Group.
Brown taught at Ithaca College from 1968 until his retirement in 2008. But he has hardly retired. He has been travelling the world, teaching at clinics in Europe and performing all over the U.S. Losito is also a pivotal figure in the jazz arena. He hails from Elmira, N.Y. where he teaches at Cedar Arts Center.
The Sun: How did you get started with jazz?
Steve Brown: Well, my father and mother were both musicians back home in Long Beach, Long Island, so there was always music in the house. They both went to Ithaca College. And eventually most of my family went to I.C. The Browns have had a long history there. And I taught at I.C. for 40 years where I was in charge of the jazz program until my retirement about four years ago.
Dino Losito: Yeah, we both have really musical families. I started taking classical piano lessons when I was four years old. My family was very, very musical. Mother was a singer. Father was a saxophone player. And my uncles were also very into the music scene. As a family, we would listen and dance to jazz and swing music. I was fortunate in that sense. And I went on to further my jazz studies at William Patterson University in Wayne, N.J.
Sun: Now I’m going to admit that I’m a pretty new listener of jazz. What suggestions do you have for people like me who want to better understand jazz?
S.B.: There are certain procedures that occur when a group of musicians get together to play a tune. And within jazz music we physically run a recycling business, replaying the same harmonic structures differently. For the listener, it would be best to listen and look out for this replayed melody and hum it to yourself. And doing this will really make a lot more out of the experience of listening to music.
D.L.: Well a huge part of what makes jazz is the improvisational aspect. The melody is clear. It’s what happens in between that sometimes loses the “inexperienced jazz listener.” If you can grab them with melody and rhythm you are doing okay. Anybody that wants to understand jazz more should listen, go see live performances, and ask the musicians questions.
Sun: So could you give us a sneak peek on what to expect this coming Thursday?
S.B.: The subtitle for the evening will be “Friends and Family,” which really reflects a lot of the kind of jazz I write. You’ll realize that a lot of my compositions are dedicated to friends and family. For example, “Child’s Play” is for my son who is a bass player. “Sweet Angel” was written for my daughter when she was born.“Balsa Barbara” is for my wife. And the Carriage House has a Hammond organ which is really hard to come by nowadays. And Dino will be playing that. Paul Merrill who has set up a fantastic jazz program at Cornell will also be joining us for a tune or two I believe. It should be exciting and I’m sure everyone will enjoy the evening.
D.L.: Most of the pieces will be originals by Steve. There will be some Latin music as well along with an original of my own. And yes, I’ll be playing the Hammond organ. I look forward to playing the organ format.
Sun: Who are your musical role models?
S.B.: Everybody. Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Barney Kessel … the list can go on forever. But Pat Martino most of all.
D.L.: Many people ... too many. Charlie Parker John Coltrane Bud Powell, Cedar Walton, Herbie Hancock, Jimmy Smith.
Sun: (To Brown) So I was digging up your musical history and found out you performed with Ray Charles! How did that happen?
S.B.: So Ray Charles was performing at Bailey Hall but his guitarist couldn’t perform and they asked me to fill in. I went to their rehearsal and we played two compositions which really wasn’t necessary since I knew most of his tunes and could read music.
The funny part was during our actual performance. There was a short rest where I fiddled with the guitar. Right then, Ray leaned back and whispered, “You’re covering up the whole band!” But the thing was, the band wasn’t playing at the time. Ray obviously wanted to fill in the part personally but I filled in for him. I joked to the others before the show that Ray wouldn’t even talk to me during the set. But he did (chuckles). We did all the hits though and they asked me to join them on the road but I had a class to teach in Ithaca.
Sun: Wow, so what do you do now that you’ve retired?
S.B.: I just came back from Sweden and Norway. I also went to Spain and conducted a lot of clinics and workshops. A lot of the people who call me are former students of mine and it’s great to play with seeing and playing with them again. And I get paid to travel. It’s just great.
Sun: Why should people come on Thursday?
S.B.: Everyone should support jazz in general. Jazz is a mixture of different cultures that is representative of the cultural melting pot of America. It’s a unique kind of music which is highly appreciated in Europe, South America and Japan. Sometimes I feel like their appreciation for jazz is a lot stronger than America’s. It’s an American treasure that we should all appreciate and enjoy often.
D.L.: People should try to support live music in the community and help make it happen. Especially jazz. Jazz is an American art form that embraces a huge part of thehistory and the diversity of people in our country. It is a kind of music Americans can take for granted. And to experience jazz is truly something different and worthwhile.
Join these jazz maestros along with Danny D’Imperio (drums) and Chris Persad (trumplet and lugelhorn) for a smooth and funky Thursday evening at the Carriage House Café. Reservations and tickets information can be found on jazzspacesithaca.arts.cornell.edu.