“My musical background stems from the church”, says Brown. “Mum was the choir director and church organist for many years and taught me general music theory, the Hammond organ, piano and encouraged me to learn the guitar too – which I also played at church. I am currently the church organist.”
Brown was fortunate that he not only had a musical family (his first band was with his sisters), but that he also studied at the Kingsdale School, which had a highly respected music department. “This was fundamental to my musical development,” says Brown. “We had enthusiastic teachers like my first trombone teacher Tony Hogg – I remember the old Blessing I used to play on. And there were many different musical ensembles that I was able to join.” Brown himself is now the lower brass tutor at Kingsdale and has also become a school governor.
But it was at the Centre for Young Musicians that Brown’s playing really took off. “Colin Sheen (primarily), Cliff Hardie and Phil Brown were inspirational, and under their expert tuition I was able to take my playing to a totally different level. We did various ensembles/orchestras and did many international tours and concerts – I remember playing at the Barbican and the Royal Festival Hall.”
By this time Brown had moved on from the basic Blessing instrument. “I remember the day I went into town with my mum and Colin Sheen to my favourite brass shop, Phil Parker’s. I tried various instruments and remember picking up a King 2B and a 3B, but I didn’t really feel a connection with them like I did and still do feel with the Vincent Bach Stradivarius 16M (light weight slide). I still have that instrument along with a more updated model, which is the horn I currently use. They both have yellow brass bells.”
During his teenage years Brown met up with many likeminded musicians. “Jason Yarde, Sean Corby, Rowland Sutherland, were all instrumental in introducing me to lots of people on the scene and I ended up by playing with various people at jam sessions, which helped me to develop the ability to adapt to different musical surroundings – where instant flexibility is required. Looking back on it, it also helped me to develop what might be called good “life” skills – the ability to listen, respond and act without either imposing too much or losing one’s sense of self identity. I was also learning about how to take risks by exploring new ideas – going with what you felt and experimenting.”
So what were Brown’s early jazz influences? “Ellington, Basie, Mingus and Miles. Then as far as trombone players go, I was listening to – and still do – listen to guys like Don Drummond, Vin Gordon, Fred Wesley, Hal Crook, Curtis Fuller, Elliot Mason, JJ Johnson, The Rollins brothers (Dennis and Winston), Fayyaz Virji and Wycliffe Gordon.”
Brown’s musical pathway and interests have always been finely balanced between the jazz and classical genres. “I did a Master of Music Degree in Performance at the Royal Academy of Music which took in a range of influences – from Coltrane to Stockhausen. I was trying to raise the level of jazz music analysis to the same level as that of the classical composers and their output.”
During this period, Brown also supplemented his instrument cache. “My Bach 16M is a medium bore trombone, which is fine for most things – and I have a particular attachment to that instrument. But sometimes I need a large bore horn. So I picked up a Conn88H that is perfect for classical chamber music, that is brass quintets, choral music or contemporary music such as Kurtag or Berio. I also have a 60s Conn Elkhart bass trombone that I occasionally use for studio work, the odd big band concert or doubling on shows or concerts.” I ask whether Brown has ever considered playing a valve trombone. “The valve trombone has never really appealed to me, but I do admire the possibilities that it can offer. I also play Euphonium and Bass trumpet, so who knows – maybe one day? Musically speaking all I need and want to do is possible on the slide trombone, anything that I cannot do I just practise harder and with lots of focus until I can.”
As for mouthpieces he started with a 12C on the Blessing. “But now I use a Bach 6 3/4C or a Bach11C on my 16M, while I use a Bach 4G with the Conns.” I ask whether he has ever used a Megatone mouthpiece. “I don’t personally feel that it makes a lot of difference,” says Brown, “since at the end of the day, it is the player that is most important. Players such as my former teacher Dudley Bright (London Symphony Orchestra) would sound amazing on an instrument that cost £5 or £5,000.”
Brown will inevitably always be associated with the Jazz Warriors. “We have come full circle with the recent concert and live album release of the Jazz Warriors Afropeans,” he tells me. “My current projects include the new Jazz Jamaica, Wise Children Collective, Rowland Sutherland’s Creative force, Jerry Dammers Spatial aka Orchestra and of course my own quartet featuring Robert Mitchell, Larry Bartley and Rod Youngs.” Brown is keen to emphasise his feelings about music making. “I view the performer as someone who is completely united with their instrument, who knows where to touch it and what to do in order to set it into vibration, so that the inner vibrations which occur within the player can be immediately transformed into the outer vibration of the instrument. In addition to this, the sounds that come out of the instrument must be an accurate reflection or auditory realisation of what the musician is thinking. The reason I love the trombone and in particular my Bach 16M, is because I can use it as a channel of personal expression and as an extension of the emotional scope.”
Recently Brown has found himself moving more into the writing and arranging side of the business. “It always gives me a great feeling hearing things I have written on films, adverts, TV shows etc and working with international producers with World class artists signed to major labels.” Brown’s career is clearly in the ascendency, success having been built on a thorough technical and aesthetic grounding and a willingness and ability to criss-cross musical genres as and when the occasion demands.