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Jazz Guitarist Paul Brown and 'The City'

ED GORDON, host:

Paul Brown's skill as a producer has helped drive the popularity of smooth jazz for quite some time now. Brown's work with George Benson, Boney James, Patti Austin and the late Luther Vandross, among others, has earned him two Grammys and dozens of number-one hits.

(Soundbite of jazz music)

GORDON: Last year, he broke out as a front man on guitar with a CD called "Up Front." His latest CD, "The City," hits record stores today. It's offered Brown yet another opportunity to step up front.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. PAUL BROWN: (Singing) Well, last night I slept in the open, down by a redwood tree.

GORDON: A lot of people now are finding out about you, but I must say that had they read the back of their CDs they would have known about you for a mighty long time. What's the difference now in being the front man?

Mr. BROWN: Well, it's just I'm taking it to the next level, and it's very creative. And I've always wanted to make my own records. It just took a minute to get here.

GORDON: Did the artist in you suffer silently? Did you sit in the studio wanting to, you know, get the accolades that talent gets?

Mr. BROWN: Not really. I really enjoy producing and engineering, and I never really thought I had enough to offer as an artist until a few years ago. And so I just kept working on it, and when it got to the point where I felt I could make a record that was compelling, then I went for it.

(Soundbite of song with guitar)

GORDON: When you think about the fingerprint that you've put on this genre, do you ever sit back and think, `Wow, you know, I ain't doing too bad here'? Now modesty aside.

Mr. BROWN: Not really. I mean, the funny thing about it is that I really wasn't even into jazz, much less smooth jazz. I was, you know, a Deadhead, and I was into psychedelic music. And, you know, my favorite artist is probably Peter Gabriel or Brite Cooter(ph) or someone like that.

GORDON: So how does a Deadhead--a self-confessed Deadhead really turn to this kind of music and make it where people have to feel you have a true feeling for it?

Mr. BROWN: The Grateful Dead, you know, they actually had a lot of jazz influences, and, I mean, their music was very, you know, free form and it went on and on and it was always something different.

(Soundbite of "Real Mutha For Ya")

GORDON: Let me ask you about something that's on the new album. It's a favorite of mine, and that's the Johnny `Guitar' Watson...

Mr. BROWN: Yeah.

GORDON: ..."Real Mutha for Ya." So us old guys know about that.

Mr. BROWN: Right.

GORDON: Talk to me about why you picked that.

Mr. BROWN: After going out and doing gigs following the release of my first record, I realized that I needed some more funky material, a little more up stuff for playing live. And while I was playing one night, I came off stage and Wayman Tisdale says, `Man, you sound just like Johnny `Guitar' Watson, your guitar playing and your singing.' And I said, `Really?' I had never really listened to Johnny `Guitar' Watson. So when I got home, I checked him out. He's right.

(Soundbite of "Real Mutha For Ya")

Mr. BROWN: And I listened to that song in particular, and I said...

GORDON: So it wasn't until then...

Mr. BROWN: ...`I want to cover that song.'

GORDON: ...that you really had been introduced to Johnny `Guitar'...

Mr. BROWN: Well, I mean, I had heard of him and I had listened to him, but not really...

GORDON: Right.

Mr. BROWN: ...paid any close attention to him.

GORDON: Wow. That's amazing and such a great tune.

Mr. BROWN: Yeah.

GORDON: The guitar in and of itself is an instrument--and this is from a person who has--who loves music but has absolutely no musical ability. But it seems like one of those instruments that not only can you play, but you can have fun with it. Is that fair?

Mr. BROWN: It is. It's a very expressive instrument, and guitar players are lucky in that. You know, you can sustain a note, you can pop a note, you can, you know, finesse a note, and it's very expressive like a human voice or a saxophone. And it is a lot of fun to play.

(Soundbite of music with guitar)

GORDON: Well, Paul Brown, the new CD is called "The City," and if it's anything like your past productions, whether it was your initial solo CD or all of the people that you've worked with over the past, oh, umpteen years now, it is sure to be a hit, and we thank you so much for your time.

Mr. BROWN: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music with guitar)

GORDON: That does it for the program today. To listen to the show, visit npr.org. If you'd like to comment, call us at (202) 408-3330. NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

I'm Ed Gordon. This is NEWS & NOTES. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ed Gordon
Hard hitting, intelligent, honest, and no-nonsense describe Ed Gordon's style and approach to reporting that have made the Emmy Award-winning broadcaster one of the most respected journalists in the business today. Known for his informative on-air interaction with newsmakers, from world leaders to celebrities, the name Ed Gordon has become synonymous with the "big" interview.
Paul Brown
As a newscaster and reporter for NPR, Paul Brown handles an ever-changing combination of on-air, reporting, editing and producing tasks with skills he developed over 30 years working in radio and print journalism.