Charles Brown Talking Jazz
At one point during the late forties, Charles Brown was one of the most famous jazz singers in the United States, epitomizing the Los Angeles nightclub artist, cool and nostalgic, defining the jazzman’s equivalent of “film noire” style. As piano player / vocalist with Johnny Moore and the Three Blazers, Charles influenced a generation of singers that followed, including, quite obviously, Ray Charles, and through them, the entire world of popular music and rock and roll. But when the Three Blazers broke up, he seemed to disappear from the music scene. Thirty years later, I met him in San Francisco just as he was beginning to come out of retirement, at least locally. We had talked about getting together for a year or so when I heard the news that he was reviving his career. We finally spent a few hours talking about his remarkable history and the whims of the music industry. That afternoon, he played a lot of piano and sang many songs and his style was absolutely intact. Although decades had passed, he still sounded like the young jilted lover when he sang those songs of unrequited love, and his keyboard facility was as strong and as idiosyncratic as ever. Several years after our conversation, Charles was invited by Bonnie Raitt to be the opening act on her international tour, and the world once again heard that unmistakable voice and understood that loneliness was the mother’s milk of this music.