About Jewel Brown
At the tail end of a deeply insightful short documentary created to help promote Jewel Brown’s long awaited, perfectly titled new album Thanks for Good Ole’ Music and Memories, the legendary performer – called by Living Blues magazine as the “most Jazzy-Blues singer on earth – looks back on her extraordinary, multi-faceted life and career and says in her snappy, sassy cadence, with a playful twinkle in her eye, “Time’s coming when you do the best you can do, do the best you can while you can when you can, if you can, however you can, for as long as you can, for whoever you can as long as the Good Lord says you can.”
Perhaps best known for her world tours with Louis Armstrong’s All-Star Band from 1961-68, Brown’s incredible history inspires her co-writer and producer Nic Allen (Joe Sample’s music director and member of the contemporary jazz ensemble RADS Krusaders) to say, “She was America’s first pop star, and put Houston on the map long before Beyonce, Archie Bell & The Drells, The Jazz Crusaders and Paul Wall.”
While growing up singing in church, she performed her first show at Club Ebony at age 12, was cutting records by her teens, later recorded in New York with Duke Ellington and others, played jazz clubs all over the country and headlined for several years in the late 50s and early 60s at nightclubs owned by the soon to be infamous Jack Ruby. After traveling the world two and a half times over with Armstrong – including a famed performance behind the Iron Curtain in East Berlin in 1965 – she left the business to take care of her parents in their later years, and then worked successfully in various outside endeavors (including interior decorating, co-owning a barbershop with her brother and selling insurance) for decades before she felt the calling to return to the stage and perform at festivals in the U.S. and Europe in 2015 at the ripe age of 77.
Allen met Brown at a rehearsal for a gig with Joe Sample at the Galveston Opera House, and Sample said he wanted to work with Brown after he finished a recording with India.Arie. Later too ill to fulfill that commitment, Sample – who died in 2014 – told Allen he should work with her. That promise now comes to fruition with Thanks for Good Ole Music and Memories, which showcases Jewel Brown at her bluesy and jazzy powerhouse vocal best performing with a dynamic, eminently grooving nine-piece band. Complementing Brown and Allen’s six soulful co-written originals are unique re-imaginings of Harry Belafonte’s dramatic, danger filled “Did You Hear About Jerry?” (Brown’s longtime signature tune), “Song of the Dreamer”,
(penned by Brown’s ex-husband Eddie Curtis and first recorded in 1955 by Billy Brookes with the Red Saunders Band) and Norman Whitfield’s “Which Way Is Up?”, theme to the Richard Pryor film which was a Top 30 hit by Stargard in 1978.
“Over the years, I had the opportunity to work with various songwriters on hits but never put my name on anything till now,” says Brown. “I feel like the Lord has given back to me what was taken, and I’ve enjoyed doing a lot of writing lately with Nic. I have gone through many tests over the years and now I feel like I’m writing my testimony. I ask that He guide and lead me to be able to write songs that will help people, lift them up and make them want to change for the better. We all came here with a purpose and our task is to find and fulfill that purpose. I believe Nic’s heart is in the same place as mine when it comes to these songs. He calls me “antiquated,” and says he is reupholstering me – and he says that I’m even better than I used to be. The most important thing to me is that everything on this album is truth.”
The ten sultry and sassy jazz and blues-inflected tracks of Jewel Brown’s Thanks for Good Ole’ Music and Memories reflect not only a thriving songwriting collaboration between her and the album’s producer Nic Allen, but also an acknowledgment of the singer’s formidable legacy both in some of the lyrics of the originals, and in the choices to revisit two songs that touch on important parts of her musical history, “Did You Hear About Jerry?” (her onetime signature tune) and “Song of the Dreamer,” penned by her ex, Eddie Curtis. “Jerry” (featuring RADS Krusaders & Live! In the Clutch) is all sassy, funked up Latin/soul-jazz magic as she tells the colorful tale of the violent life of the “Arkansas Mule.” Over several mood swings and rhythmic changes, Brown brings a sense of sweet intimacy to “Song of the Dreamer,” arranged as a horn-drenched R&B ballad with touches of jazz and blues. It’s a song about getting back to her beloved; taken metaphorically, we can apply it to her long-awaited return to music.
The new track that Brown feels best captures her professional life is the soulful, easy swinging ballad “On the Road,” which has one of her most passionate, emotional vocals. Like many of the songs, it also has a playful call and response element between Brown’s lead and a trio of male background vocalists that include Allen. The lyrics “I’m loving the beautiful view/I’m always thinking of you” remind her of her days away from home, touring with Armstrong, and even the euphoric feeling of her first gig with the trumpet legend in Geneva, Switzerland.
Another song that artfully captures that spirit of lead vocal/backing vocal interaction is the breezy, tropical, urban jazz flavored “Why Did You Do That?” Over a simmering, spirited light bluesy swing vibe, the guys ask the question and, in the verses, in her big, edgy voice, explains why she doesn’t want to be a part of another person’s foolishness and prefers instead to take the Lord’s path to goodness. Another highlight among the originals is “Nitches and Glitches,” a sensual and atmospheric, attitude driven soul-jazz jam (with sizzling horn arrangements) that finds Brown fed up with her lover’s game playing and ready to move on – with the male chorus emphasizing the title and encouraging her to get out. Other highlights include the jangling, old school rock-tinged R&B romp “Which Way Is Up,” about trying to get her life back in order; and the a cappella testament of faith “Pain and Glory,” where Brown gives her poignant and empowering testimony of faith over a chorus of gospel flavored male vocals.
THE EARLY YEARS
A native of Houston’s 3rd Ward (aka The Tray), Jewel Brown came from humble beginnings and was singing in church from the age of five, and seeing how her parents struggled, prayed that she could find ways to help them. Singing was the only work she knew since winning her first talent contest at age nine at the Masonic Temple in Houston’s Fourth Ward. She won the contest nine weeks in a row, putting the money away for a new house for her parents, which she bought for them at age 15. Her repertoire included the blues songs of Linda Hopkins, and she counts her other influences as Winona Harris, Ruth Brown and Roy Brown. At her first official gig at the Eldorado Ballroom at 12, the comedian Caledonia told her she was already a pro – and said the key to having a great career was developing one’s own style and not singing like anyone else. Other early gigs were singing with Elmore Nixon, whose pianist was Brown’s brother Ted, and singing several nights a week at the Manhattan Club outside of Galveston. Lionel Hampton offered her a chance to tour Europe with him
before she graduated high school, but she felt she was too young.
Her early recordings on Liberty Records in the 1950’s (produced by Clyde Otis) included “I Ain’t Givin’ Up Nothing” and “I Must Be Dreaming.” Over the years, in addition to 14 album appearances and three solo albums, she performed with Hampton, Sample, Dizzy Gillespie, Houston's Arnett Cobb and many others. In 2007 Jewel was inducted into the Blues Smithsonian, and she was later awarded a Proclamation by Houston's Mayor Annise Parker, then Congressional acknowledgments by Shelia Jackson Lee (2015) for her contribution to the arts and being Houston’s lifelong legend. Mayor Sylvester Turner authorized December 12, 2020 as Jewel Brown Day.