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  • Writer's pictureAllen Kepler

Norman Brown: Behind the Beats

Each week we'll take you 'Behind the Beats' to learn more about the artists that play on our airwaves. This week: Norman Brown. Allen Kepler has known Norman since high school and sat down with him to talk about his success and the struggles of the past year.

Norman, you had another #1 last year with “Heading Wes”. Tell us about your inspiration behind the tune.

This is a vibe based on capturing the Wes thumb sound combined with my picking sound. The rhythm drives like a steady walk stepping confident and pointed illustrating initiative, purpose on a mission with intention to get it Done! It's a journey to achieving success, doing it in Style...The horns, and the other colors exemplify the beauty of the surroundings. With Class & sophistication the guitar is the person...

You were an amazing guitar player in high school. By the time you were 18, you had played most major venues in KC and decided to head to California. Tell us about that transition and the beginnings of your journey to becoming a recording artist.

Developing into becoming successful at earning a living as guitarist in the Kansas City Mo, & Kansas City KS, surrounding areas in the top Quartet - The Bishop Cunningham Quartet (my former Jr High school band director) along with guitarist for the top Top 40 Band - Gloria Edwards & The WSB Band, aka Waverly Street Band as well as teaching. I wanted to learn and grow my skills as well as get into the recording/touring arena. It’s time to go to the bigger waters....LA or NYC. The sunshine and Guitar Institute of Technology (GIT) made LA the choice. I moved to Los Angeles and attended GIT now known as the Musicians Institute (MI) of Hollywood, CA. I met many great players, learned and improved my skills tremendously and also made really great connections. I had the opportunity to see role models for achieving my aspirations of becoming a Recording Artist and touring musician. After graduating from GIT, I earned the opportunity to teach there and began performing my original music, building a local audience and making demos for presentations to record companies. I recorded several demos which were rejected but almost all the record labels.

After some time I met Norman Connors. He was a hit maker, talent scout, legendary drummer and all-star producer. Norman Connors listened to my demo tape and decided immediately to pursue a record deal for me. He said, “Brownie, we have to get this music to the World" Norman Connors began shopping my music to every industry executive he knew. After two years of this he went to the vice president of Motown Records, Steve Mckeever. He found out Steve McKeever was interested in starting a jazz division at Motown and Norman Connors immediately pursued a meeting with him and he convinced Steve to come to a small club I was performing in called "Bon Appétit", in the Westwood Village. Norman Connors called me earlier that day and informed me that Steve McKeever had expressed interest in signing an artist that was also a writer, as well as an experience performer. The night Norman brought Steve down to the club and Steve had invited many other celebrities to see me perform. At the conclusion of my first set Norman Connors came over to me and told me that Steve was very interested in me becoming the first artist to sign to the Motown jazz label. I played the remaining three sets met Steve McKeever and we began a relationship of getting to know each other and the music of Norman Brown.

We discussed the direction of the artistry Steve wanted to present through his Motown jazz label. Demo jazz label was launched as well as the career of Norman Brown. Norman Connors produced the first album just between us which featured a star-studded lineup including Stevie Wonder, Boyz II Men, Ronnie Laws, Kirk Whalum, Gerald Albright, the Perry sisters, Earth Wind and Fire’s horn section as well as Verdine White, their famous baseman and their guitarist Al Mckay, not to mention Bobby Lyle on keyboards. The arrangements were done by Benjamín Wright as well as Jerry Peters. The song “To High” featuring Stevie Wonder and Boyz II Men was featured in the Wesley Snipes film Passenger 57, directed by Kevin Hooks. “Just Between Us” debuted on the MoJazz label was a success. I went on to make two more records for the MoJazz label, After The Storm and Better Days Ahead.

Tell us about your experience as a teacher.

After graduation from the GIT (Musicians Institute), I was offered a teaching position. I became a GIT instructor and taught courses in the areas of single string technique which is a melodic study, I also taught fingerboard harmony and rhythm guitar for coral studies, I also taught site reading and air training as well as live performing workshops. It was a wonderful experience meeting and working with students from across the globe across age ranges and different cultural backgrounds. It was a wonderful opportunity to continue my own studying by helping others as well as earning a living to pay my bills while I built an honest career writing songs and performing locally. I often come across many of my former students from around the world, in my travels and proud to say some have become professional musicians

Gotta talk about that Grammy! An honor to be nominated but you won! Tells us how that felt and what it means to you.

Moving on from Motown MoJazz I signed with Warner Brothers Records Jazz. I worked with producer Paul Brown on “Just Chilling” and received my first Grammy nomination, to cap it off, I won the Grammy for best pop instrumental album. It was such an honor to win the first time out as I watched many artists nominated many times before they won their first Grammy. For me, this was among the greatest honors to be nominated and win. As recording artist it begin a new chapter for Norman Brown.

Do you remember playing a guitar solo with the marching band in high school? I can’t recall the song but I have a memory of it.

I have a vague memory of performing guitar with the marching band, but the song escapes my mind. However, I do have fond memories of becoming the drum major at the homecoming game, driving my 1978 Trans Am onto the football field, escorted by four lovely ladies, jumping out of the car, stepping up to the podium and conducting the band through the halftime show. It was a Steely Dan night and a night I'll never forget!

We both grew up in “The Dotte”, and we both left. Have you been back lately and if so how was it?

Yes, growing up in the Dotte was a great experience, lots of activities, great friendships, a wonderful city Wyandotte county Kansas City Kansas. I have been back for a summer concert in 2019. We played the Midland Theater in Kansas City Missouri to a sold out the crowd of good friends, family and my Normantic fans. I received the proclamation of special recognition from the city of Kansas City Kansas, I have been named honorary citizen, from the city of Kansas City Missouri, I have also been named as a member of the 12th annual Kansas City Kansas public schools "REASON TO BELIEVE" ALUMNI HONOR ROLL. I'm extremely proud for the recognition and to represent our hometown of Kansas City.

The new single “Just Groovin” sounds another #1 to me. Tell us about your process of writing melodies and tunes.

The song I made again displaying the Wes Montgomery octave sound combine with my picking technique and the lustrous melody floating over the floor in the floor driving rhythm for a danceable vibe flavored with the jazz style featuring my guitar improvisation reaching for smooth jazz rocking along tickling the ear to move the spirit creating the opportunity to feel good. Writing smooth jazz music is interesting in the fact that it must be great music that has a simplicity for digestibility by the listener at the same time substance as content that create the image inspiring a feeling satisfying both Artist and the fans. This piece, with the help of my good friend Paul Brown, and directed by Daniel Weiss turns out to be just that. I am predicting another number one as well Allen!

This has been an incredibly challenging year. I know how much you love to perform live. How have you dealt with it?

This has been an incredible year Allen on both sides, challenging as well as opportunistic. I saw this coming, I had a revelation that there would be a great change in the world, an event that would affect the entire globe. Challenges, obstacles, setbacks all of these events we call problems, remember there is always a silver lining. Yes, there is a silver lining to these events, scenarios, situations it is up to us to trust in ourselves to view these forces from different angles. It becomes about what must be done and that is to hold onto the understanding that there is a lesson, a lesson on a spiritual level, a lesson on the mental level therefore affecting the physical existence of the people on earth. There is a force in creation called motion all energetic existence is governed by motion. Time is our greatest example, it never stops, therefore, we can never stop but the world stopped in 2020. I view this as an opportunity for a blessing.

I mean think about it, when's the last time everyone got a chance to stay home, had the opportunity to rest our minds, step back from the continuum of time, when's the last time we had an opportunity not to have punch the clock?

I personally have expressed a desire to stop traveling for years, catch up with myself, work on my inner self, take a break from the airplanes and boy did I get a chance to do that. In addition, cleaning out the garage, the closet and building a model car, just the things we like to do with our time for ourselves that the hustle & struggle of survival took liberty over our time therefore limiting our personal freedom in time. Yes there was tragedy.

Yes, there was loss of life, but death happens daily, when there's not a pandemic, so what's the bright side? Celebrate the home going of those who left the planet and got their wings and became void of sickness, worry, stress and the need to fight for survival. A celebration for the opportunity to grow oneself, to focus on oneself internally and on our love ones. An opportunity to transition into a new way of doing things, of being creative, of acquiring a new skill or increase a skill level. The silver lining in this once in a lifetime experience, we're all living through is to unify, the unification of all, into the one, back into the all, what do I mean by that? I am you and you are me, we are made from the same source, we are interconnected, interrelated, therefore, we are interdependent.

That's right, we depend on each other for our very survival, for our happiness for our peace, for our health, for every inch of living we experience on this planet. This is a time to remind us that we are all governed by the same world. We are One People, governed by One World, and we better accept, trust and operate under that principle for the betterment of all of our lives.

This season in history offers the opportunity to stop, look, and listen to your heart, hear what it's saying, and that is love. Which is the premise I used to create my newest record, “Heart To Heart”. What I do to you, I do to me, so I better do something good to you and the world because that's exactly what I will get back. I urge my fellow beings, let's adopt this as a framework for thinking and reasoning about living life “Heart To Heart”.

Learn more about Norman Brown on his website.

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