Jazz Performer & Professor of Music, Justin Time Records & Concordia University, Montreal, QC. Born: USA.
Jeri Brown is a classically trained jazz performer who, during her training under Frank Summerside, performed in the U.S. and throughout Europe (Sweden, Germany, Norway and Holland). In addition to performances with the Cleveland Chamber Orchestra and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, she began performing more stylistic renditions of standards from theatre, film and pop culture. She was heard by Bob McKee, the drummer and bandleader on the Mike Douglas show at the time, who invited her to join his group in Ohio. This exposure and training led to performances with many renowned artists, including Ellis Marsalis, Billy Taylor and Dizzy Gillespie. From there, she moved into the front ranks of jazz vocalists in the Cleveland area.
In addition to classic jazz standards, Jeri developed as a lyricist, recitalist, concert soloist and recording artist, and has become one of the world’s most respected jazz vocalists. She has written and recorded in collaboration with composers Henry Butler, Kenny Wheeler, Cyrus Chestnut, Avery Sharpe and Greg Carter. Her recorded vocal improvisations of contemporary jazz with Kenny Wheeler, Fred Hersch and D.D. Jackson, as well as her choral and vocal arrangements with Abdullah Ibrahim and Jimmy Rowles, have won her special recognition as an arranger. A popular figure on the European performing circuit, she performs a large repertoire of selections from Ellington, Gershwin, Legrand and Porter.
Her voice can be described as three-dimensional. To the up and down (a four-octave range), she adds an in and out, a plasticity of dynamics stretched and deepened by changes of vowel and tonal color, from breathy contralto to high flute-like tones. Like Sarah Vaughan, Jeri has a rich complex voice that is always on pitch. Such talent has afforded her a lifetime of vocal experiences from jazz, pop, spiritual, avant-garde, classical, and musical theatre. Like Betty Carter, Jeri approaches a song as an instrument and makes her own musical path.
Jeri has earned a reputation as one of jazz’ most outstanding “artistic” vocalists. With many fine musicians who are labeled “artistic,” it’s sometimes overlooked how richly musical, thoroughly accessible and enjoyable their music can be. Jeri is focused, ambitious, daring and intent upon creating music that is both well conceived and honest. She is well known for performing and recording with passion and dedication.
Committed to the legacy of vocal jazz, Jeri’s performances fill the historical spectrum of classic American songbook themes, original jazz compositions, and contemporary world themes with intense vocal improvisations, and include collaborations with diverse, legendary jazz artists.
In 2001, she created her own record label, Jongleur Productions, committed to providing a forum for the creation of music yet untapped by Jeri, and for her productions with new or lesser known talent worldwide. The first successful release on Jongleur, Sempre Nina: A Tribute to Nina Simone, featuring Jeri with Canadian guitarist Al Sutherland received rave reviews. A later release, Jeri Brown Live in Paris, featured Jeri’s Paris performances at the Sunside Jazz Club—with band members Jobic Lemasson (piano), Peter Giron (bass) and legendary drummer John Betsch—and in concert for Radio France—featuring Pierre de Bethmann on piano. Jeri hopes to record annually on this label while continuing her recording presence with Justin Time Records. New Wonderland, Jeri’s tenth album for Justin Time Records was released in 2007. The label’s most recent project is Improvisations in Song – a duet CD recording featuring guitarist Roddy Ellias, performed live at the Oscar Peterson Concert Hall in Montreal, Canada.
Jeri remains active in the theatre community, writing, performing and producing her own musicals for similar theatre stages through her own theatre company, Jongleur Productions.
Highlights: Beyond the realm of music, Jeri Brown holds several degrees in such fields as Counseling, Education and English. Such diversity of studies, along with a growing performance record, has led her into many different teaching opportunities, including the Oberlin Conservatory Of Music, Cleveland State University and The University of Akron. Jeri has also taught at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, and has held several teaching positions in Canada, including Associate Professor of Music at Concordia University and McGill University, and at Nova Scotia’s St. Francis Xavier University. She is also an Oral Culturalist with Columbia University in Ohio; and, is the Founder and Artistic Director of Jongleur, an artists’ training group in Nova Scotia.
Works: Committed to the legacy of vocal jazz, Jeri’s performances fill the historical spectrum of classic American songbook themes, original jazz compositions, and contemporary world themes with intense vocal improvisations, and include collaborations with diverse, legendary jazz artists. She has performed or recorded with such musicians as Leon Thomas, John Hicks, Grady Tate, Kirk Lightsey, Betty Carter, Ellis Marsalis, Erik Truffaz, David Murray, D.D. Jackson, Billy Hart, Kenny Werner, Pierre Michelot, John Betsch, Onaje Allan Gumbs, Fred Hersch, Tony Suggs, Michel Donato, Winard Harper, Chico Freeman, Joe Lovano, Cyrus Chestnut, Dr. Billy Taylor, Kenny Wheeler, Avery Sharpe, Rufus Reid, Gerry Gibbs, Seamus Blake and Jimmy Rowles.
Recordings: 9 releases with Justin Time Records including Firm Roots (2003); Image in the Mirror: The Triptych (2001); April in Paris (1996); Fresh Start (1995); A Timeless Place (1993); Unfolding: The Peacocks (1992); and Mirage (1991). She has also participated in recordings for the CBC and film projects for BRAVO! and Vision TV.
Film Highlights: In a 10-year period, Jeri has been filmed in over 20 performance documentaries for Canadian, US and European filmmakers including several performances for festivals, concert series and performance spectacles, such as: Cherry Docs, screenplay (2008); Paul Simon Tribute for CBC TV featuring a host of international artists from Elvis Costello to Jamie Cullum (2006); Tribute to Nina Simone for Global TV (2005); Jeri Brown: The Spirit Comes Through (for CBC, BRAVO, VISION-Canada broadcasts, 2004); Once Upon a Summertime: Jeri Brown à Paris (1998); Jeri Brown Performs: An Evening of Gershwin, Concert 2002 (BET, BRAVO, World Affairs Productions-Canada & U.S. broadcasts); Jeri Brown with Spiritica (BRAVO, CBC-Canada broadcasts, 2001).
Theatre Highlights: Highly successful Canadian premiere of the hit classic Broadway play, Gospel at Colonus, featuring Jeri in the principal role of Ismene; Portrayal of Ismene (1998); Image in the Mirror: The Triptych, (2001); Four Walls of Blue by Jeri Brown (2001); 936 Laurel by playwright Jeri Brown (2000); Voices of Sassy, Marian, and Ida one-woman musical (1998).
Favourite book? The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.
Favourite quote? “We never know how high we are till we are called to rise; and then, if we are true to plan, our statures touch the skies.” – Emily Dickinson
Given the chance, what would you love to do that you haven’t done yet? To do what I haven’t done – travel to Africa to perform.
Who inspires you? Michele Obama impresses me.
Why do you do what you do? I do what I do because it is my mission in life is to act as a servant for positive change in all that I do and with all that I touch.