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The University of Hartford

Mondays in the Park with Paul
Bushnell Series and WWUH Fill Summer Air(waves) with Jazz
By Chuck Obuchowski

How Mr. Brown Got the Jazz Ball Rolling

    The year was 1967, the season had been dubbed "the summer of love," and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band dominated the collective musical consciousness of a generation. Rock seemed poised to take over the world; fans and practitioners of other musical forms were panic-stricken. In July, John Coltrane’s death further disheartened the global jazz community. Yet that very same month, bassist Paul Brown persuaded his employers at Hartford’s Community Renewal Team to inaugurate a free jazz series for local residents.
    The first season, while WWUH radio was still on the drawing board, Clark Terry’s Big Band and Cannonball Adderley’s Quintet each performed outside Wish Elementary School on Barbour Street. Bluesmaster Muddy Waters also headlined a gig at Prince Tech. Not bad for starters, huh?
    The Monday Night Jazz Series has endured, despite great upheavals on the American cultural landscape during ensuing decades. In the early 1970s, the concerts relocated to Bushnell Park, with support from the Downtown Council, to accommodate burgeoning crowds. Thelonious Monk, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Herbie Hancock, the Thad Jones – Mel Lewis Orchestra and Charles Mingus are among the many jazz legends who have delighted Monday Night audiences over the years.
    At the outset of its 34th season, the Jazz Series is finally receiving national attention. In May, the Library of Congress recognized the series as part of its Local Legacies project. The Greater Hartford Festival of Jazz, which Brown helped found in 1992, was honored concurrently.

Enter WWUH

    Ever since WWUH began broadcasting on July 15, 1968, the station has maintained strong ties with the Greater Hartford arts community. Jazz has been a significant part of our musical mix since the beginning, too. So it’s not surprising that the station decided to assist Brown and the Garden Area Neighborhood Council in their mission to bring live jazz to the area. WWUH first tried its hand at airing live concerts from Bushnell Park in 1975. Technical costs and inadequate staffing have forced the station to suspend its broadcasts some seasons, but we’re back in business in 2000, after a year’s hiatus, beginning July 10, from 6 – 9 p.m. At press time, the concluding date has not been determined, pending notification from all Monday Night Jazz Series fundraising sources.
    The WWUH jazz broadcasts include both the opening act and the headliner each Monday night, in addition to interviews with the artists between sets, and updates on other summer jazz happenings. All our jazz announcers, plus our engineering staff and a number of other station volunteers, take turns bringing the series to our listeners. Despite our efforts, we encourage everyone who is able to experience the concerts in person if at all possible. Nothing beats the positive vibrations of sharing these captivating sounds under the stars with a couple thousand friends...accompanied by a basket of fresh fruit, or some wine & cheese...maybe even a bit of Frisbee-toss if you’re so inclined, or a glimpse of a gorgeous moonrise over the State Capitol.

The Lowdown

    All Monday Night Jazz concerts this summer are scheduled to take place in Bushnell Park Pavilion. Opening acts take the stage at 6 p.m. and usually play between 45 minutes to an hour. The headlining band begins at approximately 7:30. All events are free; parking is available at the capitol building and on streets surrounding the park. The rain location will likely be the Charter Oak Cultural Center at 21 Charter Oak Ave., just off Main Street in Hartford. The following schedule is subject to change, listen to WWUH radio for updates, and call the WWUH jazzline (860-768-5267) for the latest information once the series gets underway.

--July 10: Buster Williams Ensemble
Opening: Gerry Eastman & Co.

--July 17: Fred Smith’s Harlem Renaissance Jazz Legends
Opening: Dave Santoro/Dick Oatts Band

--July 24: Carlos Garnett Quartet
Opening: Eddie Marshall/ Norman Gage

--July 31: Pete LaRoca Sims Group
Opening: Phil Bowler’s Pocket Jungle

--August 7: Frank Foster
Opening: Samba Brasil

--August 14: Clark Terry Group
Opening: Lisle Atkinson Bass Choir

--August 21: Al Harewood Quintet
Opening: Eddie Allen Band

The Humble Jazz Maestro of Bushnell Park

    Year after year, the scene is repeated: a smiling Paul Brown saunters up to the microphone and greets the early comers dotting the park’s grassy hillside. After thanking a few sponsors and announcing the opening band, he quickly disappears into the shadows. No profound mission statements, no self-serving comments, no eloquent speeches...just the basics, and on with the show...during which he himself rarely performs.
    As founder and musical director of the free outdoor jazz series, Brown could be playing his bass every Monday night during July and August, but he chooses to turn the stage over to some of his favorite musicians. And he makes sure to feature local musicians as well as players from New York and elsewhere. The emcee’s humility might be mistaken for stage fright, but catch him in concert with his own band, the Paul Brown Quartet (affectionately known as the PBQ), or teaching at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Performing Arts, and it’s apparent this man loves sharing music with an audience.
    In an era of superstar wrestlers and Kid Rock excesses, Paul Brown is an anomaly in the entertainment world---the quiet gentleman, who likes his band to dress in tuxedoes---and yet, a friendly, down-to-earth guy with a fondness for expressions like "shucks" and "dagnabit." Brown’s peers clearly hold him in high esteem and value his artistry; he still makes time to take sideman gigs throughout the U.S. and abroad. In fact, had he not been intent on maintaining a family lifestyle, Brown could easily have chosen to spend his days on the road with any number of bandleaders he has worked with over the years, from Jimmy Heath to Barry Harris.
    Besides his recognition by the Library of Congress’ Local Legacies project, Brown received the Distinguished Arts Advocate Award from the Connecticut Commission on the Arts earlier this year. Not that he would call attention to either of these honors—nor would he mention his courageous battle with serious illness during the 1980s. He’ d rather recall the fallen comrades he once spotlighted for Hartford listeners: Dexter Gordon, Bill Evans, Clifford Jordan...or he’d choose to thank the Evelyn Preston Memorial Foundation, Snow Sound, Northern Lights, the Bushnell Park Foundation, the Piano & Organ Warehouse, WWUH and all the other supporters of the Monday Night Jazz Series. That’s typical of his modesty. The bottom line, however, is that Paul Brown is a man best described by another of his own favorite expressions...solid!

Copyright©WWUH: July/August Program Guide, 2000

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