Michael Jackson has been an inspiration to guitarist Norman Brown.
So when friend and musician tenor saxophonist, Kirk Whalum came up with the idea to create an album with trumpeter/flugelhornist Rick Braun and guitarist Norman Brown celebrating Jackson’s invaluable contribution to the music industry, Brown immediately agreed to be a part of the project.
“This is a fun collaboration. First of all, we really love each other. We’ve been good friends for the longest time,” Brown said. “Rick is a very serious trumpet player; so is Kirk on his horn. And then we feed off each other and bring stuff to life that way. So it was Rick’s idea to make these songs, to do the Michael Jackson songbook. So we just started picking our favorite ones.”
Brown, Whalum and Braun—BWB—formed in 2002 while the trio were signed as individual artists to the Warner Bros. Jazz record label. The result of that collaboration was the critically-acclaimed “Groovin.’”
“We made that CD 11 years ago and it was very successful,” said Brown who plays guitar, saxophone, upright bass and drums. “Our fans wanted us to come together and do another project.
The result is “Human Nature” a Jazzy menagerie of Jackson’s music from his days as the front man of the Jackson Five to his chart-topping solo efforts, “Off the Wall,” “Bad” and the iconic, ‘Thriller.”
“His catalogue is very extensive,” said Brown. “We started with 30 songs and we eliminated it down to 11 songs. We wanted to have a connection with the audience and put a new spin on the songs.”
Although Brown never got the chance to meet or work with Jackson, he is happy to be able to pay homage to one of the greatest entertainers of our time with “Human Nature,” which was released on the Heads Up International Record Label in June.
“Michael’s music is very inspiring and we wanted to do this because we love Michael Jackson. This was about love,” Brown said.
Braun agreed with Brown.
“Michael had an ear for harmony and had a real Jazz sensibility. Let’s take ‘Billie Jean,’ When you look at the chord pattern and the bassline, you can actually play Miles Davis’ ‘Milestones’ on it.
“The harmonies in the song ‘I Can’t Help It,’which was written by Stevie Wonder. are so complex that playing solos on top of that was challenging for all of us,” continued Braun who was born and raised in Allentown, PA. “So it’s no fluke that Michael Jackson became the King of Pop. The way he phrased melodies, it’s surprisingly complicated. It’s lyrical, but interesting and a lot deeper than one would expect from a pop artist.”
Raised in Kansas City, Kan, Brown was inspired to pick up a guitar at the age of eight after listening to Jimi Hendrix and Wes Montgomery.
“I heard Jimi Hendrix and he was so expressive that he drew me in and so did Wes Montgomery,” Brown said. “The guitar blew my mind. I knew I wanted to learn how to play it.”
After graduating from high school, Brown moved to Los Angeles and attended and taught at the famed Musicians Institute there. He has released eight solo discs. In 1993 his “Just Chillin” CD won him a Best Pop Instrumental Grammy Award.
Brown tested his vocal ability on 2005’s “West Coast Coolin.” The album was well received by the adult contemporary market.
He joined Peak Records, a subsidiary of Concord Music Group in 2007 and released “Stay With Me,” which spawned the hits “Stay With Me,” “Let’s Take A Ride,” and “Pop’s Cool Groove.”
Last year, Brown joined Gerald Albright for “24/7” which produced the hit, “Champagne Life,” from singer Ne-Yo’s “Libra Scale” recording.
“We thought it’d be great to do an album and a tour together,” said Albright when asked about his 33-year-friendship with Brown. “We have the utmost respect for each other and it was a real natural thing. I love working with him.”
Brown enjoys collaborating with any fellow musicians to make music that transcends all boundaries.
2014 will find Brown on tour with Bobby Caldwell and in the studio working on another solo record.
“The most electrifying music is powerful and it speaks to people’s souls,” Brown said.
That’s what Brown, Whalum and Braun believes “Human Nature” will do to listeners.
“We’re not the first musicians to take a serious approach to Michael’s music,” Whalum said.
“But for us it’s an honor because the feeling of the music communicates so beautifully. That’s ultimately what music is supposed to be about.”
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