Father, son jazz players share the stage

There’s a joke among guitar players that a bassist is their “seventh string.” Jazz guitarist Steve Brown used to joke around with his wife that he would “grow his own bass player” if he could. The joke became reality when they had a son, Miles, who grew up to play bass guitar.

The Browns will perform together again Thursday at Oakland University with the Oakland Jazz Quartet, which Miles is a member of. It’ll be far from their first shared performance.

“We’ve been playing together ever since I’ve been able to play the bass,” said Miles Brown, who first played live with his father when he was 12. “We can relate on a deeper level than just a pickup group.”

The first song they played, fittingly, was “So What” by Miles Davis, who Steve Brown named his son after.

“I started (Miles) very early,” Steve Brown said. “By the time he was 15, I was using him regularly as my first-call bass player.”

Steve Brown’s father, Glenn, was also a jazz musician. He played marimba with the Xavier Cugat Orchestra in the ’40s and ’50s. Steve Brown played shows with his father as he does now with Miles.

Steve Brown, who resides in Ithaca, N.Y.,  taught music for 40 years before retiring in 2008. He created the jazz program at Ithaca College and served as its director from 1968 to 2008. He still teaches clinics and performs globally.

Because Steve Brown lives in New York  and Miles lives in Michigan, the two typically only see each other when they perform together, outside of holidays.

“He’s never been to Detroit before … and I thought it’d be fun” for him to play with the Oakland Jazz Quartet, Miles Brown said.

Oakland Jazz Quartet formed in 2009 and made its campus debut this February. In addition to Miles Brown, it consists of drummer Sean Dobbins, pianist Tad Weed and vibraphone player Mark Stone — all of whom are OU jazz faculty.

“I’m excited to play with Sean Dobbins, who I met at (Miles’) wedding,” Steve Brown said. “He’s a marvelous drummer.”

The concert will also feature two music education students — Quincy Stewart, who plays trumpet, and Matt Dufresne, a tenor saxophone player — who were selected because of their prior professional experience.

“I’m a father of a son about Miles’ age or so, and I know what a great feeling a father has, doing something with your son that you both dig,” Stewart said. “So I’m always glad to be included in that dynamic.”

Unlike Stewart, who has two sons — one whose name is also Miles — he performs with on occasion, Dufresne has never played with family before.

“All those guys (in the quartet) are great, but Miles and Steve are family,” Dufresne said. “I’m pretty interested in being a part of that dynamic when they must know each other’s playing pretty well.”

Stewart and Dufresne will join the group for two songs: “On the Sunny Side of the Street” and “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home.”

The concert will also feature compositions written by both of the Browns, including Miles’ “Share My Love,” and Steve’s “Two Birds, One Stone.”

As part of his trip to OU, Steve Brown will be holding a master class with Oakland’s big band jazz ensemble Thursday at 4 p.m. in 110 Varner Hall. After listening to them perform, he will offer a critique.

For common interests between Steve and Miles Brown, Steve said “music really is it for us” but that their shared love of music runs very deep.

“There are two kinds of music: Good music and bad music,” Steve Brown said. “We’re both interested in all kinds of good music.”

Oakland Jazz Quartet will perform with Steve Brown and two students in Varner Recital Hall on Thursday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $13 for general admission, $7 for students and can be purchased at Varner Box Office and www.starticketsplus.com

Visit www.oakland.edu/jazz for more information about Oakland Jazz.