Chad Lefkowitz-Brown: What’s on Your Playlist?

May 7, 2018

Hailed as a “sax phenom” by The New York Daily News, Chad Lefkowitz-Brown is one of the first prominent jazz musicians to emerge out of the millennial generation. He has toured globally as a soloist and with numerous jazz artists and pop icons ranging from Arturo O’Farrill to Taylor Swift. A member of the multi-Grammy award winning Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, Lefkowitz-Brown is the youngest faculty member at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, as well as on faculty as a visiting artist at the San Francisco Conservatory.

A native of Elmira, New York, Lefkowitz-Brown established himself as a jazz prodigy at age 11, performing throughout New York State under the mentorship of local jazz hero George Reed, who was known for backing legends like Teddy Wilson, Buddy Tate, and Marian McPartland. Lefkowitz-Brown went on to pursue a formal education in the arts at the Brubeck Institute, where he performed regularly with Brubeck and was a member of the Brubeck Institute Jazz Quintet. While in school he earned 15 DownBeat Magazine Student Music Awards in categories such as “Best Jazz Soloist” and “Best Original Song.” Since graduating from the Brubeck Institute, he has performed throughout four continents and at venues including Carnegie Hall, the Super Bowl, and Madison Square Garden.

His sophomore release, Onward, featuring the legendary Randy Brecker, showcases Lefkowitz-Brown’s fierce chops, uncanny artistic maturity, and singular voice.

1. Joshua RedmanMomentum

Josh has always been a hero of mine as a musician and person. He’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, and one of the most inspiring improvisers. One of the reasons I look up to him on an artistic level is that he’s explored so many different subcategories of jazz and he’s gone through so many different phases of his career, but his composing and playing always stay true to his own sound and identity. Whether he’s playing something more esoteric or straight-ahead, I can always hear that it’s Josh because his musical identity comes through in his tone and improvisational approach. Momentum was his second album with the Elastic Band, and I think he really perfected the sound of that group on this record. The album has such an amazing shape to it, so it’s one of those CDs that you really have to listen to straight through.

2. Oscar PetersonWe Get Requests

This is one of my all-time favorite trio albums. Oscar plays with so much joy, and the classic Oscar trio (with Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen) sounds so tight on this one. I love the opening track, “Corcovado,” which is a prime example of a swung bossanova. Oscar plays so many crisp lines in the upper register; it sounds so sweet flying over the relaxed feel of the bass and drums.

3. Dexter GordonOur Man In Paris

I love this album and it has an interesting backstory – or at least there is a legend associated with the title. A lot of jazz musicians moved from New York to Paris, or Europe in general, in the ‘60s, because France had such a huge appreciation for jazz, and because the country was more progressive in terms of racial equality. This album features Bud Powell and Kenny Clarke, each of whom, from my understanding, was living in Paris, as well, at the time. Dexter was living in Copenhagen, but came to Paris to record the album. To me, this is the quintessential Dexter Gordon album, because it swings so hard, and the recording quality has a “live” feeling to it, so it almost feels like you’re listening to Dexter play a live set.

4. Errol GarnerConcert by the Sea

My favorite elements of Errol Garner’s playing are his unique touch, groove, and use of dynamics. He plays quietly with such drama, and loudly with such grandiose strength. This is a classic album that I know a lot of musicians swear by. Just like Thelonious Monk was a completely unique improviser with a purely original sound on the piano, I believe the same applies to Errol Garner. Essential jazz listening.

5. Matt WilsonHoney and Salt

This is an amazing album by a drummer I’ve admired since I was a kid, and now I have the good fortune of working with him on faculty at the San Francisco Conservatory. The music on the album is all inspired by the poetry of Carl Sandburg, who I confess I hadn’t really checked out until this album. The music has such a strong vibe, taking influence from not just jazz, but also folk and rock. There are a lot of through-composition forms, but still with reoccurring themes. I love how Matt’s writing plays off of the rhythm of the poetry so well, and the strong use of dynamics is so intriguing all the way through.

6. John ColtraneCrescent

This is a strong statement, but I honestly feel like this is the most passionately song-full album by ‘Trane. He’s always singing through the horn on this one and searching for the “pretty” notes with his iconic tone. To me, this is self-expression on the saxophone at its best.

7. Ben WendelFrame

Ben is such a master composer of modern jazz and I think he’s been a huge influence on a whole generation of modern jazz musicians and saxophonists. I, myself, got some lessons from Ben while I was in college. This album highlights his compositional prowess and his refined improvising.

8. Dayna StephensPeace

I love Dayna’s phrasing and this is a minimalist album that really highlights how patient of an improviser he is. Dayna never forces anything in the music, which I really admire. He lets the music grow organically and he always finds a unique way to construct his lines, keeping it melodic all the way through.

9. Seamus BlakeLive at Smalls

You can’t really hear someone’s true sound from a recording. Seamus probably has my favorite saxophone sound in the world right now, but I don’t think any recording can do justice to how massive, round, and lyrical his tone is. This Live at Smalls recording comes pretty close, though, and I love how he improvises on this one, as always. “Amuse Bouche” is my favorite track – one of his originals and it has my favorite solo on the album.

10. Joel Frahm and Brad MehldauDon’t Explain

I can listen to this album all the way through and never once feel bored of the fact that it’s just duets. The interplay between Joel and Brad is so incredible and you can hear how well they know each other as musicians and people. They grew up together and I think their familiarity with each other comes through in the music they make together. I think this album is one of the most genuine and honest jazz albums of the modern era.

11. Laura MvulaSing to the Moon

Not quite a jazz album, but this music takes a lot of influence from jazz. I honestly think this album is one of the best-produced albums of all time. The orchestration on it is phenomenal, and the mix and master is pristine. Mvula has such a unique voice and I think she’s one of the most thoughtful songwriters of our time.

Chad Lefkowitz-Brown’s latest disc, Onward, was released on May 12, 2017 (www.chadlefkowitz-brown.com).

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