Jazz Legend’s Legacy: Steve Brown ’64, M.S. ’68
Glenn Brown ’36 and Marie Ward Brown ’35 first met on the steps of the old Ithaca Conservatory of Music building in DeWitt Park. Years later, in 1960, their son Steve Brown came to his parents’ alma mater as a classical percussion student of Warren Benson. Benson was then the faculty sponsor of the student-run jazz lab, led by senior and founder Al Hamme ’61. Steve Brown became the group’s guitarist during his freshman year. When Hamme graduated, Brown took over, directing the band for most of his remaining undergraduate years, with Bob Levy ’66 covering one semester.
After Brown’s 1964 graduation he taught public school music on Long Island for three years (during which time his youngest brother, Ray Brown ’68, who now teaches jazz at Cabrillo College in California, led the jazz lab), before returning to IC in 1967 to continue his studies. He proposed his own program of study, becoming the first-ever recipient of a master’s degree in classical guitar from IC. During the year he spent studying for it Brown returned to playing in the jazz lab, performing with his brother Ray.
Steve Brown had made an impression at Ithaca. As soon as he completed his master’s degree, IC hired him to lead the big band, teach jazz courses, and direct the jazz lab, which he’s been doing ever since. If you do the math you’ll see that there have been only four directors of the IC jazz lab since the band’s founding in 1957: students Al Hamme, Steve Brown, Bob Levy, Ray Brown, and then Steve Brown again, this time as a faculty member.
Over the years the jazz bands and classes have included students majoring in performance, education, and jazz. Brown says that he’s proud to serve the music education community, knowing that students equipped to teach jazz are in demand in the public schools. He incorporates pedagogy into all his classes so that his students leave IC with the ability to teach jazz "methodically and engagingly."
As the principal jazz studies professor, Brown has a variety of duties. He leads the big band and electric guitar ensemble, teaches jazz guitar and electric bass students, and teaches classes in jazz piano, jazz history, improvisation, and arranging. Even though he has been asked to join the faculty at the Berklee School of Music in Boston, which specializes in jazz and contemporary media, he has happily stayed in Ithaca, where he can "do it all."
Both part-time lecturers in jazz studies graduated from the School of Music. Paul Merrill, M.M. ’01, was Brown’s student and is now his colleague. For him, the essence of Brown’s influence on Ithaca’s musical community is his dedication to "working with all levels and affecting musicians from every background."
Lauri Robinson-Keegan ’89, M.M. ’00, who is known in the jazz community as Cookie Coogan, leads the vocal jazz ensemble. She points out what an incredibly generous mentor Brown is: "He’s always willing to share with anyone who is interested. He also involves his students in the real jazz world --- he takes students to play gigs with him, and he plays on their gigs occasionally. Steve helps nurture young jazz musicians trying to find their niche in the world."
Brown also maintains an active schedule of performances as a guitarist and recording artist. He and his brother Ray were recently featured in a concert in Pittsburgh called "Brothers in Jazz." Steve Brown was also one of the all-stars who performed at the State University of New York at Binghamton’s farewell concert celebrating Al Hamme’s retirement. After starting the IC jazz lab, Hamme had gone on to direct Binghamton’s jazz program.
Brown’s writing has also garnered attention: Kendor recently published his original big band piece Catch Phrase, and he has written two books in widespread use: Jazz Solos for Guitar Vol. 1 and An Introduction to Jazz Improvisation, a collaboration with Ray.
During the School of Music’s recent expansion, a chamber jazz room was added as a gift from Steve McCluski ’74 and Kim Joslyn McCluski ’74 in honor of the Brown family. A plaque there honors all seven members of the family who graduated from IC --- Steve; his wife, Barbara Katz Brown ’74, M.S. ’75; his parents (his mother passed away this winter); his brother Ray; Ray’s wife, Susan Cahill Brown ’71; and his brother Glenn Brown ’59 --- plus two who attended other colleges, Steve’s brother Roger and his sister, Jeanne Brown D’Acquisto. The room is a place where classes and small chamber groups can get together to hone their skills.
Brown’s boundless energy and enthusiasm for jazz, his passion for sharing, and his inspiring personality all make him the venerable master for dozens of students every year. As Paul Merrill puts it, "Jazz has no greater mentor, torchbearer, player, teacher, and friend than Steve."Photo of Steve Brown rehearsing the big band by Richard Killen
A. Ozolins, Ithaca College Office of Publications, 6 August, 2002