By Melissa Carlin '10
Mel Brown is not only a commonplace name on Western’s campus, but also an Oregon icon. Brown is known as the “Gentleman of Jazz,” a name he has well deserved. He set out on a quest to become an illustrious drummer in the seventh-grade, practicing 19 hours a day, six days a week. His hard work paid off when he pursued his dream as a staff drummer for the Motown Music Corporation, recording and touring with groups including the Temptations, the Supremes, and Smokey Robinson. He subsequently spent 10 years working with Diana Ross, Suzanne Somers, Connie Francis, Pat Boone and others.
It isn’t just Brown’s connections in the jazz world that make him an icon in our community, he has also been very involved in music education. His passion is working with college and high school students. He has served on the Board of Directors of the Portland Youth Philharmonic, Portland Music Association, and the Mt. Hood Festival of Jazz. He also has served as an adjudicator in the U.S. and beyond, and has conducted various jazz workshops, such as the one this past August.
Brown has received many local awards in recognition of his contributions to the cultural life of Oregon; Brown received the Governor’s Arts Award in 2002 and the City of Portland proclaimed June 22, 1989, Mel Brown Day in recognition of his achievements. When Brown received the Governor’s Arts Award, David Hudson of the Regional Arts & Culture council wrote: “Oregon is widely recognized for its rich jazz scene and the enormous following supporting that genre. Mel Brown is largely responsible for this phenomenon.”
Brown holds the Mel Brown Summer Jazz Workshop in Monmouth, providing participants the opportunity to improve their performance skills, while increasing their knowledge and appreciation for Jazz. The 2010 workshop ran from Aug. 1 to Aug. 7, and started with a bang when Mel Brown and other guest artists had their annual free outdoor concert near the campus - a wonderful tradition of the camp and a highly anticipated event in the community.
Brown stated the philosophy of his workshop on his website stating that “Jazz is an art form that develops with time and dedication. Whether you are just beginning or are a more advanced student, this workshop is designed to bring you toward the next level in your study of jazz. You will develop your intellect and creativity, and gain the skills necessary to make reasoned aesthetic decisions in the context of performing jazz. We intend that you will begin the process of creating your own personal musical identity. This will allow you to appreciate, understand and criticize with discrimination the work of other musicians, and to reflect upon your own unique voice.”