Marion Brown ’74 died on October 18, 2010, in Hollywood, Florida.
(The following was provided by the New York Times on October 23, 2010)
Marion Brown, a saxophonist whose lyrical, low-key style made him a distinctive presence in the high-energy jazz avant-garde of the 1960s and ’70s, died Monday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He was 79.
His death, in a hospice, was confirmed by his son, Djinji. Mr. Brown had been treated for a variety of illnesses in recent years and had been living in an assisted-living home in Hollywood, Fla.
Mr. Brown, whose main instrument was alto saxophone, was a key figure in the movement that came to be known as free jazz, an approach to improvisation that challenged conventional notions of harmony, rhythm, pitch and pretty much everything else.
He first attracted wide attention as a member of the 11-piece ensemble featured on John Coltrane’s influential and controversial album “Ascension.” That album, recorded in 1965 and released in 1966, signaled Coltrane’s commitment to free jazz and, while it drew as much criticism as praise, helped give legitimacy to what had been largely an underground phenomenon.
By that time Mr. Brown had been participating in the avant-garde for a while, having worked with the tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp (who introduced him to Coltrane), the idiosyncratic pianist and bandleader Sun Ra and other musicians who were pushing the boundaries of jazz. Mr. Brown soon began leading sessions for ESP-Disk, ECM, Impulse and other labels, developing a style as melodic as it was adventurous.
His most notable recordings were a trilogy of albums “Afternoon of a Georgia Faun,” “Geechee Recollections” and “Sweet Earth Flying” on which he evoked his Georgia roots. Reviewing all three for The New York Times in 1974, Robert Palmer called them “an exemplary demonstration of how, in the new jazz which is primarily a legacy of the 1960s, a thoughtful artist can explore a ‘subject’ through a variety of techniques, processes and formal disciplines.”
Marion Brown Jr. was born in Atlanta on Sept. 8, 1931. He studied music in high school and, after serving in the Army and attending Clark College and Howard University, moved to New York in 1962 and began his musical career in earnest. In the 1970s he taught African and African-American music at Bowdoin College and studied ethnomusicology at Wesleyan University. Despite failing health, he remained intermittently active into the 21st century.
Mr. Brown’s marriage to Gail Anderson ended in divorce. In addition to his son, he is survived by two daughters, Anais St. John and La Paloma Soria-Brown, and two granddaughters.