Transitions: Gala as Steve Brown '64, M.M. '68, Retires

A “who’s who” of music alumni celebrate the jazz master on his retirement.  By Greg Ryan ’08

Assembled on the Ford Hall stage were 35 of the most talented alumni the School of Music has ever produced — Grammy winners, rock stars, and jazz maestros among them. Every seat in the 737-capacity auditorium was filled, and some 100 more people had to watch the performance on a video screen in the adjacent Hockett Family Recital Hall.

The performers and the crowd had crisscrossed the country to be in Ithaca that rainy April night for one reason — to honor Steve Brown ’64, M.M. ’68, professor of music and director of the jazz studies program, upon his retirement after 40 years of teaching at the College. “Steve Brown and the Alumni Big Band” was the culminating concert of this year’s offerings in the new Enduring Masters Series.

The love in the room was evident. Before they even played a note, Brown and the big band of alumni he’d brought together were treated to a standing ovation. The band performed 19 songs over three hours, balancing standards like Wes Montgomery’s “The Thumb” with Brown’s and others’ original music. The jazz professor reveled in the tribute, alternately showcasing his guitar skills, bebopping from a folding chair, and profusely thanking the performers and audience for coming out.

Besides honoring Brown’s career, the concert served as a Brown family reunion. Ray Brown ’68, Steve’s brother and an accomplished composer, arranger, trumpet player, and teacher, directed and wrote many of the songs performed. Roger Brown, another brother, played acoustic bass on a few songs, and Steve’s son, Miles, a doctoral student in music at the Eastman School of Music, and daughter, Randi, M.S. ’04, performed as well — Miles on acoustic bass, and Randi singing lead vocals on one number.

For Steve, though, the night was about more than blood kin. “I consider every one of these musicians on this stage part of my family,” he said. Included in that adopted family are Brown’s classmates, students, colleagues, and friends, one of whom, former School of Music colleague and trumpeter Walter White, had turned down gigs in San Francisco and Oakland with the renowned Mingus Big Band to play in Brown’s honor.

The connections to Brown weren’t limited to those on stage, either. When Ray asked how many audience members were former students of Steve, about one-third of the crowd stood up.
The night culminated with the honoree’s performance of a song his brother Ray had written for the occasion. The blues arrangement, “IC Light,” was designed to showcase Steve Brown’s immense talent on multiple instruments — guitar, vibraphone, bass, and drums. During the song, Brown jumped from instrument to instrument, solo to solo, earning bursts of applause from the audience with each switch. “It made clear to everybody his great facility on so many instruments,” Ray says, “which has enabled him to be such a good teacher for so many different kinds of students.”

Learn more about the illustrious alumni musicians who performed as part of the Alumni Big Band in honor of Steve Brown at