John Brown Quartet performs, emphasizes the importance of art at West Stanly High School

Published 9:42 am Tuesday, January 31, 2023

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Soulfully smooth rhythms rang out throughout West Stanly High School’s auditorium, which turned into a concert hall Monday morning, as 9th and 10th grade students enjoyed a jazz concert.

As part of the Cultural Education Program, organized by the Stanly County Arts Council, the John Brown Jazz Quartet played jazz standards such as “Equinox” by North Carolinian John Coltrane and “Caravan” by Duke Ellington, whose father was from Lincolnton, while discussing the history of jazz and answering questions from students. The group will also perform for freshmen and sophomores at South Stanly, North Stanly and Albemarle.

The group is comprised of bandleader John Brown on the principal bass, Brian Miller on the tenor and alto saxophone, Orlandus Perry on drums and Kevin Van Sant on guitar.

“Sometimes I’ll say here is the song we’re playing and I won’t say anything other than that because we know each other so well and we play together so well that we can kind of anticipate what each other might do,” said Brown, who is director of the jazz program and associate professor of the practice of music at Duke University. He has previously served on the faculties of UNC Chapel Hill, NC State, North Carolina Central University and Guilford College.

Whether explaining the difference between drums being used for rock’n’roll music (cymbals are not the focal point) compared with jazz (cymbals are integral) or highlighting various styles within the genre, such as bebop, which was developed in the early-to-mid-1940s, Brown took the time to talk with the students about the importance of music and art within society.

“There isn’t a part of life that is without art,” Brown, who began playing the bass at age 9, said before the concert. “Art has been something that has really changed my life and given me a career.”

Performing in front of young people reminds Brown of when he was a student of similar age, listening to orchestras for the first time, and how impactful that was for him.

Brown, who lives in Durham and was a graduate of the School of Music at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, wished that by hearing the interplay of the instruments coming tougher to form a unified sound, no matter if students had any prior knowledge about jazz, “it inspires them and gives them hope,” Brown said.

Brown also answered many of the students’ questions, including whether he and his fellow musicians had nicknames for their instruments, how long they had been playing and what his thoughts were on the 2014 film “Whiplash.”

One highlight came towards the end, when the quartet performed a piece called “Moanin’,” inspired by jazz saxophonist and Badin native Lou Donaldson.

Last October, Badin honored Donaldson, 96, by having NCDOT rename a five-mile stretch of North Carolina Highway 740 Lou Donaldson Boulevard.

“This is the greatest day that has ever happened to me,” Donaldson said after the dedication ceremony, which took place at Cedar Grove AME Zion Church in New London, where his father had been a preacher.

“Lou Donaldson is really one of the leading figures in the creation of bebop music,” Brown told the crowd, noting the students needed to remember his name.

About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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