John Brown: Raising the Bar for Bassists

International Musician, January 2008 | Go to article overview

John Brown: Raising the Bar for Bassists


In just a few years, John Brown of Local 500 (Raleigh, NC) has started a miniature musical empire. He's the bassist and bandleader of The John Brown Quintet and the head of the jazz studies program at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, with sidelines of entertainment law and concert promotion.

A law degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, on top of his degree in music from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, has parlayed his love of music and his skills in leadership and organization into an active and wide-ranging career.

Now in his fourth year at Duke, Brown is busier than ever, leading ensembles at the university, teaching bass, directing an all-star high school group, and setting up visits and performances by major jazz artists. "They keep me busy here," Brown says, referring to Duke, "but they're really committed to my ideas. I can maintain a healthy career as an educator."

Brown speaks of his two lifelong loves-music and law-with equal passion, and it's clear that each has driven the other in his career. "I'm committed to both, and one thing helps the other," he says. He still takes on what he calls "piecemeal projects" involving musicians and contract disputes.

Brown started playing and teaching full-time while studying for the North Carolina bar exam in 1996, and it was then that he transferred his membership from Local 342 (Charlotte, NC) to Local 500. "That was a part of my commitment," Brown says. "It's a first step for a professional."

He has since gone on to serve on the executive board for Local 500, and he promotes the AFM in all of his interactions with musicians. "I say, 'This is what's in it for you; this is evidence of your career," Brown says. "I think our local has done really well for that-musicians are starting to realize it's important, and we have a mission to say it's important."

To the students in his ensembles and his teaching studio at Duke, he emphasizes the importance of union membership and the message it sends about a commitment to a career in music. "That's one of my soapbox items," Brown says. …

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