TRIBUTE TO JEFF “SOULMAN” BROWN
J. ST. JULYN BROWN
Aka Jeff Soulman Brown
BIOGRAPHY OF A JAZZ
R & B
J. St. Julyn Brown was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on June 14th, 1940. An only son, Jeff grew up in an atmosphere of affection and attention. His father, J. St.Julyn Brown Sr., was the pastor of the local Methodist Church. His mother Alexzina was an educator, lecturer and missionary. Music was an important, integral part of daily life for the Brown family. Whenever relatives and friends gathered it wasn’t long before the house resounded with the joyful sounds of gospel, jazz and down-home blues. The Brown home was a cultural center for anyone in the black community with musical or literary talent. Whitney Houston’s mother Cissy, as well as Dionne Warwick’s mother Lee, were musical directors in Jeff Sr.’s church and both were regular visitors at the Brown home .They, together with Marion Anderson, Mahalia Jackson, Paul Robeson and Josephine Baker, were instrumental in shaping young Jeff’s future.
Of all the musical forces in his life, though, none made a greater impression on Jeff than his uncle Larry Young Jr., an accomplished and respected jazz musician, he introduced Jeff to the organ and, most importantly, taught him self expression: “You don’t just play music, you express feeling.” That advice was not lost on Jeff.
Under the tutelage of his uncle, Jeff soon mastered keyboard and valve instruments and it wasn’t long before he was ready to play in front of an audience. Together with his cousin Larry Young Jr., Jeff formed a vocal group called The Challengers which began to compete for “bragging rights” with another young talented band, George Clinton’s Parliaments. During this period Jeff was invited to join The Birdlanders, a dynamic young jazz ensemble composed of such future luminaries as Woody Shaw, Tyrone Washington and Billy Brooks. This group gained prominence and distinction while performing in jazz clubs throughout the East Coast.
Then, at the age of fifteen, Jeff began his love affair with Rhythm and Blues. He left The Birdlanders and performed as a singer and musical director for R & B groups including Shep and The Limelites, Little Anthony and The Imperials. Young Jeff was ready to Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Vocalist, Trumpeter, Keyboard Player & Musical Director, Jeff’s versatility enabled him to move into the rarefied atmosphere of the biggest names in the business. During the late 50’s and into the early 60’s, Jeff together with drummer Billy Griffin and guitarist Joe Thomas, formed a sensational rhythm section called The Young Philadelphians. They appeared in concerts and provided solid backup music during recording sessions for artists such as The Drifters, The Coasters, Tommy Hunt and Chuck Jackson. These were busy exciting years, a period in musical history when white America was just beginning to awaken to the black sounds of R & B. Then tragedy struck. Billy and Joe, along with Jackie Wilson’s band, were killed in a car accident on route to a concert engagement.
Jeff was shattered but his R & B friends came to his rescue and Jeff was asked to form another section. For the next few years he toured with several R & B artists, including Solomon Burke and Rufus Thomas, as well as some rising young black comedy stars such as Flip Wilson, Scoey Mitchell and Stu Gilliam. In 1961 Jeff participated in one of the most extravagant R & B revues ever staged, Murray the K’s “Live Christmas Show” at the Brooklyn Fox Theater. Every act was a headliner: Little Anthony, Jan & Dean, The Isley Brothers, Lloyd Price, Mary Wells, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Chuck Berry. R & B reigned supreme!
Shortly after this momentous event, Jeff was drawn to return to his first musical love – jazz, and he joined the Earl Lett Quartet as an organist. Jeff hit the road travelling the jazz circuit, playing clubs such as Spider Kelly’s, The Baby Grand, Count Basie’s, The Cadillac Club and The Half Note. In 1962, the Quartet visited Montreal for a gig at The Grand National. It was love at first sight. Not only was the city vibrant and alive, it was a hotbed for R & B.
Jeff decided to stay in Montreal. With some local and imported R & B musicians he formed the Jeff Brown Quartet, a group that played to packed houses at The Grand National and Merv’s Harlem Paradise. Soon Jeff was entrenched in the Montreal music scene. His reputation spread and his group was invited to become the house band for The Esquire Show Bar. During his Esquire stint Jeff was approached by Duke Edwards, percussionist with the group Sun Ra, and was asked to form a hot new jazz act. At the time, Jeff had just recorded “Ain’t That a Groove” on the Dinosaur Label, a song which has since become a collector’s item. At Duke’s insistence, Jeff put together The Young Ones. Their innovative sounds and message lyrics landed the group a recording contract with Prestige records. One of their songs, “Is It Too Late”, became a hit and propelled the group to prominence, resulting in the Young Ones selection as the opening act for visiting groups such as Eric Clapton and Cream, Vanilla Fudge, and Jefferson Airplane. The group also performed at the African Pavilion during Expo ’67 and were the headliners for the final stage show of Montreal’s famous jazz club, The Black Bottom.
In 1968 Jeff was asked to return to the United States and become musical director for several R & B stars. He jumped at the chance and for several years worked with some of the biggest headliners in show business. During this period he travelled throughout the United States, the Caribbean, Central and South America, and Europe with artists such as Vivian Reed, Dee Dee Warwick, Esther Phillips, and Little Anthony and the Imperials. He also accompanied The Platters on a grueling world tour. Then, after almost ten years on the road, Jeff got the urge to pack it all in and settle down.
Jeff moved to Dallas, Texas and concentrated on composing and arranging music. Turning his talents to various business enterprises Jeff became involved with a number of highly successful ventures: Mister Jeff’s, an R & B bar, Terminal Taxis, Dynasty Limousines, Mr. B’s- a beauty supply outlet, and Le Louvre – a French restaurant. Even with all these projects going on, Jeff still found the time to pursue his musical interests as the Musical Director for Various R & B artists. From Las Vegas to New York, Jeff continued to fulfill his musical and business obligations. Then in 1987 Jeff was approached to try his hand in acting. He sold his business interests, moved to Toronto, Ontario and appeared in several feature films, including Suspect, with Cher, Echoes In The Darkness and Milk ‘n Honey. Back in Canada once again, Jeff returned to Montreal for a visit. the old love affair hadn’t dimmed.
Returning to Montreal Jeff formed a new company, BTA Management & Consultants, and a music publishing company, Rocking Chair Music. Currently Jeff is writing music and producing an album entitled “Sweetwater”. And yes, he’s out of musical retirement with a band, a new sound, and a new-found feeling that comes from being back home again.
AND NOW HE IS BACK
From Montreal, Jeff came back home to New York & New Jersey where he Performed at the Peppermint Lounge, Mark 4 and La Famille in Harlem but His soul was searching more and more, so he relocated to Atlanta, GA where He performed concerts at the Rialto Theater and various other venues.
Jeff was able to perform up to 2002 and lost a fight with kidney disease in December of 2003.