Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Brownlow, Jack

Pianist and composer; b. Spokane, WA, 3 March 1923. "Bruno" was his nickname from the time a neighbor's child pronounced Brownlow that way. At 12, he discovered that he could play any song in any key, without written music, an inheritance from his mother. He studied formally and in his teens was a professional pianist, working in his home town of Wenatchee, Washington, and occasionally in Seattle. Saxophonist Don Lanphere, another Wenatchee resident, learned from him informally and played with Brownlow off and on throughout their lives.

Following his days as a Navy musician in World War Two, Jack spent four months in Kansas City. Most of his playing there was at Tootie's Mayfair club. Later in 1945, Brownlow and his service friend bassist Jack Weeks spent six months playing around Los Angeles--mostly at the Big Bear resort in the mountains nearby-- and with the prominent dance band of the bassist’s father, Anson Weeks. With an additional six-months hiatus in Wenatchee, he completed the required union waiting period (to establish residency) and returned to L.A., immediately finding work. He played with Lester Young and subbed for Dodo Marmarosa with Boyd Raeburn in L.A. in 1945 and 46, also gigging with the traditional trumpeter Wingy Manone.

In late 1946, Weeks enrolled at Mills College to study with Darius Milhaud. Dave Brubeck was there, too. Brownlow considered going to Mills, but returned to Wenatchee, went into the printing business with his father, married, raised a family, and continued to perform locally. He moved to Seattle in 1965 to pursue music full-time again. He concentrated on working with his trio from '65 to '71, then performed primarily as a solo pianist (sometimes with his bassist protegé Jim Anderson) from 1971 to 1995, mostly in restaurants. He revived the trio format and worked in the trio format in clubs again from '95 to his death. Known for his sophisticated harmonic knowledge and technique, he taught privately for years. Musicians who studied formally or informally at Chateau Bruno, as his home was known, included trumpeters Randy Brecker and Jay Thomas; guitarist John Stowell; and bassists Clipper Anderson, Rufus Reid, Dean Johnson, Andy Zadrozny and Gary Peacock.

In 1971 writer Doug Ramsey (a hometown friend since the ‘50s) asked Brownlow to perform at his house in Bronxville, N.Y., during a party attended by critics and musicians. Hearing him there, Paul Desmond said, "If I played piano, that's how I'd want to play it." Desmond offered to organize a session with Brownlow and bassist Ron Carter, but the pianist had to return to Seattle before it could happen. Dave Brubeck also has spoken highly of Brownlow’s work. Jack Brownlow died in Seattle on October 27, 2007.

Dark Dance (1995); Suddenly It's Bruno (ca. 2000)


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