1962-1964

Marion Brown arrived in New York City in the summer of 1962. The first person he contact was Lloyd McNeill, a visual artist and musician, who had just left Howard and D.C. two months prior. McNeill was residing in an apartment on West 91st Street with a social worker named Milton Martin. It was there that Brown made his first New York residence, even after being forced out by urban renewal two month after Brown’s arrival. Though the building was empty, Brown had few other prospects and lived a squatter’s lifestyle. Each morning, Brown would rise early to avoid detection, head downtown and hang around until he was tired enough to pass out, then head back uptown to crash in the abandoned building. This routine would continue until the late summer when Brown moved downtown to a place in the East Village, but even then, itinerant living would be the norm of Brown’s first New York period.

Though he had left D.C. to pursue musical activities, it would not be for some time that Brown would wholeheartedly commit himself. Instead, Brown’s initial time in New York was largely occupied establishing a social network, a nexus of support as he struggled to gain even footing. Amidst odd jobs such as house painting, babysitting and building book shelves, Brown met writers and poets Ishmael Reed, David Henderson and Allen Ginsberg; and painters Bob Thompson, Joe Overstreet, Larry Compton-Kolawole, Jack Whitten, Emilio Cruz and Mildred Thompson.

Three individuals stand out for their friendship in this early period: LeRoi Jones, A.B. Spellman, and Walter White. All three men exerted an influence on Brown, acclimating him to the New York social scene and introducing him to new sources of creative inspiration. The group of Spellman, White, and Brown, sometimes augmented by Jones, would spend weekends together watching football and basketball games on television. Brown would talk music and life with Spellman and Jones, the latter introducing Brown to the work of poet Jean Toomer. White encouraged Brown to follow his muse and tried to light the way by introducing Brown to the music of Albert Ayler and Archie Shepp.

Despite these budding friendships, Brown’s first break did not come until late in 1962 when he substituted for A.B. Spellman on a two-hour Saturday afternoon radio program on WBAI-FM. One caller to that show was the American abstract painter, Stuart Davis. Late in life, Brown sometimes noted that Ornette Coleman and Archie Shepp also called in, but this was likely confusing that event and the ones that quickly followed. Shortly after that broadcast, these two figures would enter into Brown’s life and provide both the final push for music and the vehicle in which to perform it publicly.

In 1962, Ornette Coleman was at the first junction of his career. After the recorded breakthroughs on Contemporary and Atlantic Records and the famous engagement of his Quartet at the Five Spot, Coleman had become disillusioned with the furor his music created, as well as the terms under which he was forced to perform it. Retreating from the public arena, Coleman began a period of intense creativity. When Brown and Coleman met at a party, the latter was actively woodshedding, holed up teaching himself to play the violin and the trumpet. Composing, both in classical settings and for the next jazz ensemble he was beginning to envision as a trio, also engaged Coleman’s thinking. It was in this latter practice that Brown was to find the words of encouragement that meant so dearly to him. As Brown would hang around East 15th Street, Coleman would write a part and need to hear how it sounded. Asking Brown to pick up his alto and play along, Coleman was apparently surprised at his new friends proficiency and sound. The exclamation, “Why don’t you play? You play as well as anyone else!” was all it took.

Archie Shepp provided the outlet for this newfound confidence. ARCHIE SHEPP BACKGROUND.

The specifics of their meeting are lost to time, but it was a relationship based on Brown’s desire to heed Ornette Coleman’s admonishment and get back to the music. His audition for Shepp consisted of Brown playing some music on a soprano recorder. In such an unorthodox audition, Shepp heard enough he liked to offer Brown a position in the group he was rehearsing at the time. A problem remained though; Brown had no alto saxophone of his own on which to perform. Ornette Coleman would once again be a decisive, positive force, lending Brown his famed white plastic saxophone until Brown could afford an instrument of his own.

The timeline of this transition back to the music is a bit murky, and deserves some deeper explication. Brown remembers the Coleman and Shepp episodes as occurring in late 1962 and culminating in an early 1963 performance at Henry Street Settlement as part of Shepp’s group. Generally however, this debut performance with Shepp’s group is dated to September 1964 – nearly a year and a half later!

Given the absence of any knowledge of other performances in 1963 or 1964 of Brown with Shepp, and the knowledge of Shepp’s career at the time, it seems likely that Brown simply misremembered. It seems probable that he did indeed meet Coleman and Shepp in late 1962 or early 1963, but there was a more prolonged period of simply visiting Shepp at his East 5th apartment. Brown’s trajectory was clearly on the path back to music, so the lending of Coleman’s saxophone also makes sense.

Either way it leads to the question of what were Marion Brown’s activities, musical or otherwise, in 1963 and the first half of 1964?

1963 & 1964

These two years found Brown continuing explore the city’s vibrant arts scene. As friendships translated to musical partnerships, Brown began to develop the vocabulary and techniques that would be constitute enduring features of his instrumental voice. PRACTICE AND FRIENDSHIPS.

The cultural foment that characterizes this period is best represented in Brown’s relationship to the initial production of LeRoi Jones’ play, The Dutchman. ABOUT LEROI JONES. Through their friendship, Brown was cast for a minor role in the play. The play opened on March 24, 1964 to much fanfare. An after party played host to an early public performance of a group that most likely represents an precursor to the ensemble Brown and Pharaoh Saunders co-led in 1965. The two saxophonist represented the frontline, while Reggie Johnson and William Bennett shared bass duties – a format that Brown seemed intent on exploring, as evinced by his debut ESP-Disk recordings. Rashied Ali rounded out the group on drums. While no recording of the group exists, in this early iteration, it’s likely the performance reflected a more open improvisational mode. To whit, Brown recalled that Sam Rivers sat in.

Though Brown described this vision of life as a musician as an Augustinian epiphany, the trail he left behind gives a much more conflicted sense of his decision. His friendship with A.B. Spellman and especially LeRoi Jones must have exerted a strong influence, as an alternative creative path that Brown could model himself after – a writer cum public intellectual. Keep in mind that this was the period Blues People Jones, an assertive, unflinching African-American critic of American cultural production.

Consequently, while Brown dedicated himself to music, he also hedged his bets as Jones and others got him writing commissions. WRITING COMMISSIONS.

No doubt these were crucial for Brown’s ability to eke out an existence in those early New York days, but his comments bely a deeper meaning. It was likely sometime in spring 1964 that, as Jones’s guest, Brown met Norman Mailer at a party for Gunther Grass. While this gives a small glimpse of the wider lens of Brown’s intersection with an international cultural life beyond the African-American community, the real implication is found in the subsequent correspondence between Brown and Mailer. 

Marion Brown wrote first:

Things are fine, though I do find myself depressed at times when I’m thinking of how far I have to go yet in order to achieve my goal as a writer. I think that I mentioned to you that I studied music and that I’ve some ability as a woodwind player. I plan to continue, but at the same time, I wish to write.[1]

The main crux is Brown’s struggle to find his voice as a writer, and more particularly, to find a balance between music and writing. Yet, it’s also worth pointing out that for whatever reason, perhaps because of his training, he views himself still as a woodwinds player and not as an alto saxophonist. This self-perception is interesting to keep in mind as Brown’s career winds through its multi-instrumental explorations of the 1960s and 1970s.

In a rather restrained response from Norman Mailer, he tells Brown:

I say stick to music. It’s as hard to be a good writer as it is to be a good musician. You’ve got to spend your life growing up in it, somehow. It can be done, but only if you recognize that there are fifteen years of real work in reading and writing to be put in before you can begin to get your own style and so are able to say the things which are particular to yourself. [2]

However great an impact this advice had, the next couple years saw Brown’s writing taper off –at least until he entered academia in the early 1970s.

As Brown’s literary fortunes temporarily waned, his musical opportunities expanded exponentially as he embraced the alto saxophonist role in Archie Shepp’s working ensemble. Rehearsals would usually begin around 10 p.m., first taking place at a dance studio on Delancey Street (near the entrance of the Williamsburg Bridge) and later shifting to the artist loft of painter Mike Snow in the lower West Side of Manhattan. MIKE SNOW At least several weeks of rehearsals took place at Snow’s studio in the lead-up to the Henry Street Settlement performance that would mark Brown’s first known official gig in New York City.

The gig itself was a prelude to the recording date for what would become Fire Music. Brown’s path had intersected with Shepp’s at a fortuitous moment as Shepp was fast emerging as a new, divisive voice on the jazz scene. With the support of John Coltrane, Shepp had managed to secure a contract with Bob Thiele’s Impulse Records.

In October 1964, Archie Shepp’s well-rehearsed sextet convened at Judson Hall for a scrapped record date several recording sessions. Besides Shepp and Brown, the musicians assembled included Brown’s Howard classmate Charles Tolliver (tpt), Benny Jacob-El (tb), Reggie Johnson (b) and Roger Blank (d).

This was the watershed moment for Brown, who became an integral part of the Shepp’s performing unit over the next few months. Though his participation in the following series of performances are largely unverified, given his participation in the unissued October date and the more successful February 1965 date, it’s a fairly logical conclusion that he would have been a part of Shepp’s working group throughout this period.

On October 30th there was a performance of a septet at 61 4th Avenue alongside the Cecil Taylor Unit, Le Sun Ra Arkestra, Paul Bley, the Roswell Rudd-John Tchicai Quartet [New York Art Quartet], the Free Form Improvisational Ensemble, and the Bill Dixon Sextet. Billed as a “Pre-Halloween Jazz Marathon Party,” the occasion was a fundraiser for acquiring a permanent space for the newly formed Jazz Composers Guild.

A little more than a week later, Brown performed at another Guild event as part of an Archie

Shepp-led septet. A modest coffeehouse venue on the Upper West Side, The Cellar Door had

only recently been the site of the Bill Dixon-organized October Revolution in Jazz, a concert series showcasing the musicians who were being frozen out of other performance venues by dint of their approach to the music. The success of this venture was the final evidence of the need for a united front for the music, and the response from audience and musician alike, suggested the viability of an organization such as the Guild.

Initially spurred by the leadership and vision of Bill Dixon, the Guild’s called for x, y, and z. As a founding member of the Guild, Archie Shepp played a number of gigs organized by and in support of the organization. By proximity, Brown was brought into the organization’s orbit, which in turn facilitated the expansion of his performance opportunities and continued to raise his profile within the city’s jazz community. While Brown had already exhibited a commitment to progressive and radical politics, his experience with the Guild would have likely been his first encounters with organizing in response to musician-centric issues.

On November 15th, Brown again played with Shepp at another benefit, this time at 2 Pitt Street. And at the top of December, there were back-to-back performances at Archie Shepp’s 2nd floor apartment at the famed 27 Cooper Square. Just off Saint Marks and Cooper Union, this building was a locus of energy for the scene. On the top floor lived LeRoi Jones, Hettie Jones and their two children; Shepp and his family occupied the second floor; and Marzette Watts the ground-level apartment. Though there’s no strong connection between Watts and Brown, they came from similar Southern backgrounds and were politicized in the same way. Watts’s involvement with the founding of the Alabama chapter of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) led to the Governor’s request that he leave the state. In a roundabout way, he settled at 27 Cooper Square and his loft became the site of many celebrated parties. MORE ABOUT WATTS. One such party occurred Friday, December 4th and Saturday, December 5th, Shepp led a group that included Brown and trumpet player Alan Shorter.

1964 CONTEXT FOR FREE JAZZ

1964 had been quite a year for the music, and it was capped with another Dixon-led Guild production, the Four Days In December concert series at Judson Hall. On December 30th, the third night of the series, Shepp’s septet took the stage after the Free Form Improvisational Ensemble, a group led by Alan Silva and Y. Shepp’s group retained the same personnel and format from the failed October date in the same venue, and they were likely still working through the Fire Music repertoire. (Given the personnel at this gig and at the recording session, by triangulation, it seems reasonable that many of these musicians would have also performed in the preceding gigs.) Whatever the presumed circumstances, it’s hopeful that one day the recording of the performance may come to light.

Dixon had arranged for Jerry Newman to record all of the performances from the series for possible release, in order to continue to raise sustaining revenue for the Guild. Dixon tried to shop the tapes to Alan Bates at Polydor/Fontana, and though Fontana became an outlet for Guild associates, in this instance they were unable to reach terms.

[1] HRC

[2] HRC


1965

Brown’s first performance of 1965 (January 8th) was again with Shepp and again at a Guild event, though this gig marked a shift of the organization’s base of operations to the Contemporary Center, 180 7th Avenue – just above the famed jazz venue, The Village Vanguard. The New York Times music critic John S. Wilson was on hand for this, or another early, undocumented performance, encapsulating the scene in “Dig That Free Form Jazz,” which ran January 24th. Accompanying the article was a photo of Shepp’s group in performance. Though reproductions are too grainy to pick out individuals, Brown would presumably have been captured in media res.

Another photo from January 1965, taken by Steve Shapiro, also captures Shepp’s group in action at the Contemporary Center. While the pictured sextet with Shepp, Brown, bassist Reggie Johnson and drummer Clifford Jarvis may not have been from this particular date, it does give us a glimpse of the players also circulating in Shepp’s working groups at the time.

A curious, short-lived group, IN/FORMATION provided an outlet for Brown’s now latent literary side. ABOUT IN/FORMATION

At an evening billed as a “Tribute To Black Poets by Black Poets” and held at the St. Marks Playhouse, Brown was for the evening a poet. Reading alongside John Franklin, William Patterson, Marlene Patterson, LeRoi Jones, Steve Young, Nanny Bowe, A.B. Spellman, Charles Patterson, Khadejha, and Leroy Mclucas, Brown had double-duties. HIS POETRY PUBLISHED IN CHANGE.

He was not only one of the readers, but also one of the musical performers, taking the stage with Pharaoh Saunders (ts), Dewey Johnson (tpt), and Rashied Ali (d). The performance led to a write-up in one of Jones’s controversial “Apple Cores” down beat columns about the New Music. In it, Brown is noted as a sideman in Shepp’s new group, co-leader of a group with Saunders, who is also insisting that they actively practice yoga. This mention constitutes the first exposure that jazz fans outside of New York City would have had of Brown.

Days later, on January 23rd, Brown was back performing as part of Guild activities – a short-lived stint (at least so far as we know) with a quintet co-led by pianist Carla Bley and trumpeter Mike Mantler. Though no recording exists, it’s very intriguing to imagine Brown’s melodic concept within the composition’s that Bley and Mantler were producing in this period, best evinced in the album Communications.

The following weekend, Brown was likely back with the Shepp sextet, their January 30th performance rounding out a month’s worth of Guild-sponsored concerts at the Contemporary Center. On February 12th, Shepp and Brown were back again. While the 13th, Brown found himself again filling the alto spot in the Bley-Mantler Quintet.

As advertised in the Village Voice, these Jazz Composers Guild concerts cost patrons only a $2 donation. When spread amongst 5 or more people, this did not amount to much. However, it’s worth noting that whatever the failures of interpersonal dynamics of the Guild, conceptually, it was on point. These weekly gigs represent some of the steadiest work that Brown ever had, and particularly in the competitive atmosphere of New York City. While the money may not have been much, it was something you could count on.

On February 16th, Brown entered Rudy Van Gelder’s famous studio in Englewood, New Jersey to make his first professional recordings, a second session for what would become Archie Shepp’s Fire Music. Pared down from a septet to a sextet, the only holdover from December’s aborted session were Shepp, Brown, and Reggie Johnson. In the trumpet chair was Ted Curson, the trombonist was now Joseph Orange and Joe Chambers the drummer. It’s unclear exactly when some of these personnel turnover occurred, but it’s likely that the January gigs were something of a proving ground for the emerging line-up. Nevertheless, this time the group tackled fewer pieces altogether, four as opposed to seven, with the number of Shepp originals whittled down to two. These choices point to the limited amount of rehearsal in the lead-up or the late addition of these new members of the band.

DESCRIBE PIECES. One of Shepp’s original compositions, “Hambone,” provided Brown space for a solo statement. Over an unusual 6/8 vamp, Brown DESCRIBE SOLO. down beat reviewer X singled out Brown’s solo in his review of the LP, Brown’s first exposure to a greater public.

ASSAINATION OF MALCOLM X. BARAKA and BLACK ARTS.

Saturday, February 27th found Brown back at the Contemporary Center with Shepp, while the following day found Brown included in an open rehearsal of the Jazz Composers Guild Orchestra. The large ensembles featured Mike Mantler (tp), Joseph Orange and Roswell Rudd (b), Steve Lacy (ss), Marion Brown, Lee Konitz, Jimmy Lyons and John Tchicai (as), Sam Rivers (ts), Fred Pirtle (bs), Buell Niedlinger and Alan Silva (b), Lowell Davidson and Carla Bley (p), Paul Motian (d). As the group worked through a pair of pieces by Bley and Mantler (“Radio” and “Communications No. 4 (Day)” respectively), Brown’s inclusion in a distinguished alto section may have been due to his familiarity with the pieces or their music in general. The occasion would signal the end of Brown’s involvement with the duo.

As his involvement with Bley and Mantler came to a close, a new chapter with the Sun Ra Arkestra was in full blom. Remembered as perhaps the most profound musical association of his early days in New York City, early 1965 saw Brown and Pharaoh Saunders daily at the E. 3rd St. apartment that was the home of the Arkestra. Arriving every morning at about 9 a.m., the pair would hang until rehearsals began. Working through a vast repertoire of Sun Ra’s unique vision, Brown watched spontaneously improvised orchestral music come to life. Though the length of Brown’s association is unknown, he would speak proudly of it for the rest of his life. Reflecting in the early 70s, Brown felt that Sun Ra had given him the self-confidence and independence to become a leader. PHAROAH BLACK HAROLD RECORD FROM JUNE 64, SO POSSIBLY MUCH EARLIER.

That momentous occasion did not lag far behind. On March 1st, Brown was invited to perform at an Improvisation Jazz Dance Party for the benefit of the Black Arts that LeRoi Jones (now Amiri Baraka) had founded. At the Polish National Hall on St. Marks, alongside Giuseppi Logan Duo, The HARYOU Player, The TBA Band and the Pharoah Sanders Quintet, Brown made his debut as the leader of his own quartet.

While Brown as sole leader in public performance was a new concept, the idea had already been on Brown’s mind. Earlier, on February 21st, Brown had been back in Washington D.C. leading a recording session for a piece called, “Farrell’s Tune,” composed by Pharoah Saunders (whose birth name is Farrell). A 7 ½ ips, dual mono copy with a tape box in Brown’s hand ended up in the collection of Sirone. It featured a rather unusual lineup, both instrumentally and in terms of personnel.  All of the players have no further record, though they were likely players on the local scene that Brown would presumably still have been familiar with. With Brown on alto saxophone, the group also featured Freddy Michael (trumpet), Roland Homer (trumpet), Eddie Wynn (flute), Ronald Martin (drums). Unfortunately the tape box gives a tantalizing glimpse at what is perhaps no more, as Sirone unfortunately reused the tape to record himself sometime in the 1970s.

By March 12th and 13th, Brown was familiar enough with the Arkestra’s working method to be invited by Sun Ra to perform with them at what is his only documented appearance (again at a Contemporary Center Guild event). Billed as “A space age presentation of Hieroglyphics in sound,” the Arkestra also featured stalwarts Marshall Allen and Pat Patrick alongside Brown, Saunders, and another newcomer, Danny Davis. An alto player from ???, Davis’s arrival with the band coincided the beginning of Brown and Saunders relationship. WHAT DID SUN RA SOUND LIKE IN 1965?

As winter worked its way towards spring, Brown remained the primary altoist in Archie Shepp’s group. A sequence of performances in late March illustrate the two that Brown  Back-to-back Guild-sponsored gigs at the Contemporary Center Friday and Saturday were a prelude to the events of Sunday, March 28. A benefit concert for Amiri Baraka’s newly established Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School of Harlem had been organized at the Village Gate in Greenwich Village. Sharing the bill with Shepp’s septet were groups led by John Coltrane, Betty Carter, Sun Ra, Charles Tolliver and Grachan Moncur III. ALBERT AYLER? Selected performances from some of these groups, including Shepp’s, found their way onto an Impulse! compilation entitled, The New Wave In Jazz [A(S)90]. It seems likely that many of the Fire Music pieces were still in the repertoire as Brown reprised his role as a featured soloist on “Hambone,” released on the compilation. Whether the decision was made at the time of recording or closer to the 1968 release date, Brown later recalled that he ultimately requested his solo to be edited out of the performance as he had felt it was not up to par. Given the release was three years after the recording date, it’s possible that Brown felt that this earlier version of his playing no longer accurately reflected where he was as a player. Regardless, this difficult decision illuminates Brown’s judicious ear, particularly in terms of his own playing.

It’s worth noting that while it would seem logical that with Shepp and Sun Ra’s Myth-Science Arkestra on a bill, Brown would do double-duty, this was not the reality. Or at least Brown is not credited as part of the Arkestra and there is no evidence, aural or otherwise, to suggest he was invited to participate in the Arkestra’s performance.

Calvin Hicks was a writer, political activist, and educator based out of New York City during the 1960s. With Amiri Baraka, Archie Shepp, A.B. Spellman and Walter Bowe he formed a Black nationalist literary organization called the On Guard Committee For Freedom in 1960. This organization staged a famous protest at the United Nations against the United States involvement in the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and was vocal in its support of African liberation leader Patrice Lumumba.

By 1965, Hicks had formed another political advocacy outlet, the Independent Action Committee. While little is known about the causes undertaken by the organization, on April 23rd it sponsored an eclectic evening of entertainment -- a Folk Blues, Jazz and Afro Rhythms Dance and Concert. Sometime after 10 p.m. at Arlington Hall at 19-23 St. Mark’s Place, Calvin Hicks’s old friend Archie Shepp took the stage with his sextet, likely including Brown. Other artists on the bill included Marcus Gordon and his group, as well as the actor Lou Gossett, whose distinguished credits included the original Broadway production and film of Raisin in the Sun and the 1961 production of Jean Genet’s The Blacks, alongside an all star cast of James Earl Jones, Roscoe Lee Browne, Cicely Tyson, Godfrey Cambridge, Maya Angelou and Charles Gordone.

Throughout this period, one of Brown’s closest friends and musical partners had been Pharaoh Saunders. ABOUT PHARAOH.

Just as the pair had led a group after the premiere of LeRoi Jones’ The Dutchman, so another Jones production gave them another opportunity to demonstrate the music that they’d been creating together. At 8:30 p.m. on May 28th and 29th, Saunders and Brown debuted a quartet at The Black Arts up in Harlem. THE BLACK ARTS AND BROWN’S PARTICIPATION AS A TEACHER AT THE SCHOOL.

Brown had first met John Coltrane at the after-party to The Dutchman, at which Brown had participated in the musical festivities. While they had occasions to cross paths in the heady Village scene of the time, Brown would later joke that while Coltrane would come and watch his bands, he obviously had his eyes on the tenor saxophonist and drummer. (Pharaoh Saunders and Rashied Ali, respectively, would go on to be mainstays of Coltrane’s band from 1965 to his death in 1967.)

This time though, Coltrane wanted Brown. Or almost. As the story goes, Brown was hanging at Archie Shepp’s when the call came for Archie to make the date for a orchestral, large ensemble date that Coltrane was putting together that would feature many of the leading exponents of the new sound in jazz. Shepp told Coltrane that Brown was there with him if he was looking for an alto. As luck had it he was, and so on June 28, 1965, Marion Brown found himself at Rudy Van Gelder’s famed studios in Engleside, New Jersey participating in one of the most famous recordings of all time. Not bad work for someone who had only emerged onto the scene less than a year beforehand.

ASCENSION – DESCRIBE MUSIC.

HAS GUILD FOLDED BY NOW?

Burton Greene was a pianist who had participated in the now defunct Jazz Composers Guild as a member of the Free Form Improvisation Ensemble, which is likely how he had met Brown. When a performance opportunity appeared at Guild Hall, Woodstock, New York in late July, Greene tapped Brown for the gig. In a group that included the now familiar Reggie Johnson on bass and Roger Blank on drums, the quartet probably ran through a set of structured improvisations similar to, if not the same as, the ones recorded the following month at The Woodstock Playhouse with a slightly different band. These pieces included “Tree Theme II” and “Cluster Quartet II,” structured improvisations, but as the August 28th recording reflects, there was ample space for the group free form, free improvisation that had been a vital force in Greene’s previous working aggregate. 

On the August recordings, released in 2010 as Burton Greene: Live at The Woodstock Playhouse 1965 [PRCD4040], Greene, Brown, Johnson, and drummer Rashied Ali…DESCRIBE RECORDINGS.

The fact that Brown had made his debut as a leader earlier in March of that year at a Black Arts benefit had apparently escaped his memory, as it was subsequently reported in the French periodical Jazz Magazine that the important landmark in September. Despite the technical inaccuracy, the detail had a peculiar lingering history as it was highlighted in the April 1971 press release that anticipated the fall arrival of Professor Brown on the campus of Bowdoin College in Maine. While not Brown’s first as a leader, the Newark engagement of September 1965 could logically be the birth of his first working ensemble, often times a quartet or quintet, that would go on to make the sides for ESP-Disk in November.

ASK HBA ABOUT BARAKA/NEWARK DATES

DOUBLE-CHECK EXACTLY WHAT JAZZ MAGAZINE SAYS

REVISIT PRESS RELEASE TO SEE WHERE COLLEGE MIGHT HAVE GOTTEN DETAILS

Whatever its genesis, the unit that appeared in Newark had to have done so before the Septemer 19th performance of the Marion Brown Jazz Quartet. Held at a loft space at 2 East Second Street, the occasion was a fundraiser for the Jose Fuentes Campaign Fund. Fuentes was an Independent candidate for the 67th District in the State Assembly, and a cast of East Village radicals turned out to over entertainment for those who provided the 99 cent suggested donation. Brown was probably part of the midnight party that began after the 8:30 p.m. poetry reading featuring A.B. Spellman, Ishmael Reed, Ronald Stone, Tuli Kupferberg, John Harriman, Gari Youre, Paul Blackburn, Carol Berge, Allen Katzman, Ed Sanders, David Henderson, Will Inman and Allen Hoffman.

In October, a young Canadian journalist interested in the sounds emenating from New York arrived for a visit. Bill Smith was a founder of Coda magazine and snapshots from his visit grace several pages of the Spring 1966 issue. Smith captured a vibrant scene, particularly as it centered around E. 3rd Street. As Smith would later recall, Brown and his roommate Grachan Moncur III lived across the street from the venue Slug’s Saloon, placing them squarely in the midst of the action. DESCRIBE SCENE OF ARTICLE.

NOVEMBER DEBUT RECORDING FOR ESP.

Brown rounded out a busy year as a member of the Burton Greene Quartet. By this time, Brown had been a semi-consistent member of Greene’s working aggregation. Beyond the aforementioned gigs that Brown can be traced to, there were also a number of performances in formal or informal Lower East Side venues (close to Greene’s base near Delancey Street) that Brown recalled participating in.[1]

On December 12th, the group played at the Loeb Student Center as part of the NYU CORE jazz recital series. With a group that included Greene, Brown, bassist Henry Grimes, and Rashied Ali, the group undoubtedly worked through the repertoire already present in the summer Woodstock dates and would find official released form in the Burton Greene Quartet [ESP-DISK 1024] recorded just days later.

On the 18th, Brown entered Richard Alderson’s studio in the West 60s by Lincoln Center. At the time, Alderson was gearing up to do live sound for Bob Dylan’s Judas-inducing 1966 electric tour. Yet, the studio he’d co-founded with Harry Belafonte was still his primary focus; the site of a number of important ESP sessions. [PF1] 

[1] Faces and Places (52)

 [PF1]Check source of this date. Others point to January 1966, including Faces and Places & John Sinclair in preview to Changes 3 in Changes 2.


1966-1967

OVERVIEW. Throughout 1966 and 1967, the music continued to develop at a rapid clip. Brown continued to build a reputation as talent deserving of wider recognition, as the old down beat. poll category used to read. Whereas 1965 found Brown primarily within New York City and its immediate satellites upstate, the following two years found Brown venturing further from this base as professional and personal relationships drew him further into the emerging national network of like-minded players.

Despite the breaks and breakthroughs of the 1965 calendar year, the life of the musician still retained its difficulties and attendant privations. Put candidly, Brown was scuffling to pull together the gigs and recording opportunities that make avant-garde musician an economically viable profession. As Brown noted, “I made a little money from performing and recording, but it was not enough to support myself. I always had to earn money by working on a part-time basis, and by doing “odd” jobs such as painting apartments, making book shelves for people, and babysitting.”[1]

But in this he was not alone. Practitioners of free jazz found themselves a marginalized faction of an increasingly unpopular music, jazz. These were the circumstances that would foment the move to the artist-owned and operated lofts in the 1970s, but for now, it was a tough existence. Music provided a respite from a tough existence, and like his contemporaries, Brown found refuge there. Friendships forged under these hardships left lasting impressions, if Brown’s life can be used as an example.

One such example occurred early in the new year. In January, dating at least from the recording of Burton Greene’s ESP session, Marion Brown finally had to the occasion to meet the poet and soon-to-be counter-cultural icon John Sinclair in person. Having corresponded for the better part of a year, this relationship was to stretch into the 1990s. In 1966 though, Sinclair had just made Brown’s acquaintance, having arrived in New York with his wife Leni, and members of the Detroit Contemporary Four. This was not a chance meeting, but rather an orchestrated effort where Sinclair would arrange a performance for Brown in Detroit, if Brown could secure one for Sinclair’s crew in New York. Brown delivered and the ensuing performance at the Jazz Art Music Society in Newark, New Jersey will forever be immortalized as “The Burton Greene Affair” thanks to the reportage of LeRoi Jones.

In this fifth installment of his Apple Cores columns for down beat., Jones excoriates Greene as the embodiment of an encroaching influence of “a white, super-hip (MoDErn)” aesthetic on the music. Couched as “some observations I made of the existence of soul and anti-soul or the spiritual and the anti-spiritual…how they exist,” Jones recounts the development of the performance as an allegory of the shortcomings he sees in Greene’s approach.

“The music this night was rising and grew heavy, beating the walls of that place,” thanks to the efforts of Pharoah Saunders and Marion Brown, singled out for praise. As Jones tells it, Greene, “was writhing, too, pushed by forces he could not use or assimilate.” While Saunders and Brown “still went on screaming us into spirit,” Greene is juxtaposed as resorting beating the piano out of frustraition that “The sound would not do, would not be what the other sound was.” The piece ends with Greene in silence, Saunders and Brown still blowing. As if this was not enough, Jones has further barbed remarks for the white critical establishment who he thinks will find much to praise in Greene’s approach.[2]

Besides what an awkward position this article may have put Brown in, being friendly with both Jones and Greene, the episode evinces the often-tacit political undercurrent of the music, while underscoring the shifting social tectonics that necessitated.  

Sinclair provided more generous coverage in the second issue of the self-published Change. There were three nights of music in Newark. The first was a rehearsal for the Detroit Contemporary Four, featuring Charles[PF1]  Moore (tpt), John Dana (b) and Ronald Johnson (d). On Saturday night, the Detroit Contemporary Four were joined by Saunders, Brown and Greene. This seems to have been the evening Jones was writing about, Sinclair describing Greene destroying the piano and crawling on the floor. Yet Jones was also there the third night, jumping all around to the music, perhaps having forgiven Greene (at least temporarily) his trespasses. That Sunday even was more of a open evening session with the Four, Brown Saunders bringing along their friend Rashied Ali. Several Newark-based musicians sat in, amongst the named were George Lyle (as) and Howard Walker (ts). The music was continuous for two-hours.

While Brown’s relationship with Greene may have been strained by “the Burton Greene affair,” particularly Brown’s friendship with Jones, the piece wouldn’t be published until early March. While there are no known gigs after that time, it’s likely Brown continued to participate as the in Greene’s group throughout February. One known performance was as part of a concert series at the Astor Place Playhouse featuring ESP-Disk artists like Albert Ayler, Sun Ra, Paul Bley and Greene. The series was held each Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights throughout the month, so multiple performances across several weeks are possible.

March found Brown working in a new ensemble, percussionist Sunny Murray’s Turn of the Century Orchestra. Composed from a pool of musicians including Sunny Murray (d), Grachan Moncur III (b), Bennie Maupin (ts), Marion Brown and Charles Tyler (as), Perry Robinson (cl), Joel Freedman (cello) and Henry Grimes (b), the exact line-up as it can be traced seemed to vacillate from gig to gig. Compounding the frustration of locating this interesting aggregation in the music is the woeful lack of aural documentation of the musical content of the ensemble. Sometime in the Spring a scaled-down variation of this line-up (Murray, Moncur, Brown, possibly Robinson, and Grimes and/or Alan Silva) was reported as having made a studio date in New York City for Pixie, though that European news report has never yielded more recordings, much less more definitive evidence of its reality. 

For much of March and April though, the Turn of the Century Orchestra was Brown’s primary musical outlet. The band made at least two dates that month, one in Buffalo, the other in Toronto. While the details of the Buffalo performance are murky, the Toronto performance took place at the New Cellar over the weekend of March 11 to the 13th, dates confirmed by Joseph Jarman’s reportage in Changes.[3] and was billed as “The New Jazz Quartet” of Sunny Murray (d)

1967

1967 was a bittersweet year for Marion Brown, as it was for much of the jazz community. Despite the dire economics of jazz, musicians continued to grasp at the music up above, pushing and prodding into new sonic spaces. Yet by mid-year, John Coltrane, one of the main artistic and ethical pillars of the music would be gone at the too soon and perhaps as the sense of mortality crept into the scene, the sense of solidity began to crumble. In the absence of such a galvanizing figure, the music splintered as people felt more lassitude to explore the inner and outer dimensions of the breakthroughs that Coltrane, more than any other jazz figure, had helped to bring to a popular audience.

Brown likely felt this loss acutely. While the two men were not exactly intimates, the kindness, generosity, and support of Coltrane had meant the world to Brown. Further, he two had been collaborators, a unique type of kinship, and Brown had found his footing in the groundwork that Coltrane had laid. Even in death, Coltrane would remain a force that Brown reckoned with, from 1969’s “In Memory of John Coltrane” (his first solo performance) to 1992’s “Ode to Coltrane.” Just as the world at large mourned the premature loss of John Coltrane, so too did Marion Brown.

At the same time, and perhaps because of this new void, Brown felt himself having reached the limits of “free jazz” as it was expressed in New York City. Less than mastery, it had to do with development. Free jazz had been a liberating influence, but there he felt he’d explored the concept of freedom in music to his satisfaction. It was time for change and this impulse would manifest itself in profound ways across year.

The End of the Day

The early part of 1967 followed much of the pattern set during the preceding years. Scattered recording sessions and occasional gigs were

Through the hardscrabble years in New York City, music had provided an escape, both economically and psychically.

 

 

[1] Marion Brown. Faces and Places. 35-36.

[2] LeRoi Jones. Black Fire.

[3] Changes, Issue 2.

 [PF1]Look up Bohemian Embassy (Toronto) review in Feb 1966 Coda magazine