Anthony Brown's Asian American Orchestra at "Ten": New CD + Yoshi's San Francisco Show on 9/11

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Over the past decade, the San Francisco Bay Area-based Asian American Orchestra -- led by drummer/composer/producer Anthony Brown -- has won an international reputation with a series of collaborations featuring major jazz players like Steve Lacy and David Murray. Now the Grammy-nominated orchestra marks its tenth anniversary with a new CD compilation, a new community-based initiative, and an appearance on 9/11 at Yoshi's San Francisco.

Big Bands Behind Barbed Wire

Anthony Brown's Asian American Orchestra will celebrate their ten-year history with the release of a new commemorative CD entitled "Ten" on Tuesday, August 26, and with a performance at Yoshi's San Francisco on Thursday, September 11.

The Yoshi's event, which inaugurates the innovative orchestra's annual home season, takes as its theme "Bridging Japantown and the Fillmore with Jazz." "We are mounting an outreach campaign in neighborhood schools and centers on both sides of the Geary Street divide," says Brown, himself of African-American and Japanese parentage, "to support this thematic focus on building community awareness and appreciation."

Not incidentally, Brown chose the September 11th date "to reclaim it from being a dreaded date and to make it instead a day of celebration."

For the Yoshi's shows, the AAO will feature guitarist Terrence Brewer and other guest artists, and will be performing repertoire from their trilogy of homages to American composers Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn ("Far East Suite"), Thelonious Monk ("Monk's Moods"), and George Gershwin ("Rhapsodies"). Orrin Keepnews, who co-produced the AAO's Monk album, will be the evening's emcee.

"Ten," the new CD, includes favorite tracks from the orchestra's composer trilogy; "Rhymes" (from their first CD, "Big Bands Behind Barbed Wire"), which served as the theme music for KQED's Pacific Time; and new material from Brown's original theater score for the American Conservatory Theater's production of Philip Gotanda's "After the War." Featured prominently on the CD cover, behind the musicians themselves, is a 1950 photo of Brown's parents, Sumi Ogita and Willie Lee Brown, in Tokyo.

Born at the Presidio in San Francisco, Anthony Brown grew up in a military family that moved around from the Bay Area to Okinawa, Germany, and Southern California. He earned a bachelor's degree at the University of Oregon, a master's in music at Rutgers, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in music (ethnomusicology) from UC Berkeley. Brown has successfully divided his time between the academic world and the bandstand. As a drummer and percussionist, he's collaborated on record and in performance with Max Roach, Steve Lacy, David Murray, and Zakir Hussain; in the mid-1990s he served as Curator of American Musical Culture at the Smithsonian Institution, collecting oral histories from major jazz figures such as Cab Calloway and Benny Carter.

The AAO grew out of a project funded by reparations money allocated by Congress, Brown explains, "to compensate for the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II." Beginning with the ensemble's 1998 recording "Big Bands Behind Barbed Wire," Brown has been working with an evolving assemblage of players who share his unique musical vision, including bassist Mark Izu, who also plays Chinese mouth organ; Hong Wang, on reed trumpet, erhu (two-string Chinese violin), and traditional Chinese percussion; Yangqin Zhao on Chinese hammered dulcimer; trombonists Wayne Wallace and Dave Martell; reed players Melecio Magdaluyo, Marcia Miget, and Masaru Koga; and trumpeters Henry Hung and Geechi Taylor.

The Bay Area's richly multicultural environment supports and reflects that vision. "It's not just jazz and Asian music," Brown says. "Most of us are trained or experienced in classical, pop music, and blues as well, and we bring those skills to the mix." Brown calls this musical melange Fifth Stream Music, an extension of the Third Stream concept that incorporates world and pop music into the original 1950s blending of jazz and classical music, and uses the name for the nonprofit organization he formed to support his composing, performing, and educational work.

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