With over four decades under his belt as a recording artist, jazz and R & B trumpeter Tom Browne is an artist who has created his own lane musically while merging the worlds of jazz, soul, funk, and rhythm and blues into a unique sound that’s all his own.
Born in 1954 in New York, Browne started playing the piano at age 11, which led to him taking up a number of instruments. He ultimately was classically trained in trumpet and continued his studies at the Manhattan School of Music and Art.
After being exposed to jazz music at Kingsborough College, where he graduated with a degree in physics, Browne took a gig with the legendary soul/R & B artist Weldon Irvine and used that as a stepping stone for stints with jazzman Sonny Fortune and the funk unit The Fatback Band, launching his trumpeting career.
Click on the player above to hear “5 on 5: Tom Browne” and get a feel for Browne’s soulful, funky career with these five essential tracks:
The Progressive Underground’s 5 on 5: Tom Browne
1. “Herbal Scent”
The buzz surrounding Browne was that he had distinctive jazz chops and could fuse his skillset with a multitude of other music genres. He caught the eye of GRP records who signed him to a deal and his released his debut album, “Browne Sugar,” in 1979.
2. “Funkin’ for Jamaica”
While “Browne Sugar” made waves in the contemporary jazz scene, Browne’s next album, 1980’s “Love Approach” brought a decidedly different flavor and it was brought on by a tune that was initially a throwaway, filler track and the last song to be added to the album.
“Funkin’ for Jamaica” was an homage to the Jamaica, Queens neighborhood where he was born and raised and that was also home to other notable artists such as Don Blackman, Marcus Miller, Bernard Wright, Weldon Irvine and others.
The tone of the track is set from the first note, as Browne’s funky introductory solo played over exuberant chatter from cats from his neighborhood. The song also features powerfully moving and funky vocals from the late Thomassina Smith, or Toni Smith, who many mistook for Chaka Khan.
The track would go on to be played in clubs, skating rinks, and house parties all around the world, and would be later sampled by a myriad number of hip-hop acts, reach number one on the Billboard R & B charts and become one of the signature songs in the canon of funk music.
3. “Thighs High (Grip Your Hips and Move)”
By this time, Browne was revered as an artist for his ability to incorporate jazz, soul, funk, with a high degree of skill and improvisational groove that brought a virtuosity to his work.
His 1981 album “Magic” was a more direct foray into contemporary jazz, but featured another funk tune, “Thighs High (Grip Your Hips and Move),” which found its way into spaces similar to the ones that “Funkin’ for Jamaica” did a year before.
4. “Rockin’ Radio”
As the 1980s progressed, many artists began experimenting with the synth and electronic sounds of hip-hop, most notably Herbie Hancock who scored an international smash with 1983’s “Rock It.”
Browne’s track “Rockin’ Radio,” off a 1983 album of the same name, was a bookend to Hancock’s track, pointing to the creative and collaborative possibilities with the music.
The album featured production from Maurice Starr and Michael Jonzun of the Jonzun Crew who created the seminal electro hit “Pack Jam” and who also had production collaborations with the Planet Patrol, Afrika Bambaataa/Soulsonic Force.
5. “Mi Amor” (feat. Joyce Mateo)
Following the release of “Rockin’ Radio,” Browne released a succession of albums before dropping out of the music scene altogether in the mid-1980s to devote time to his work as a pilot.
He returned to the studio in the mid-90s to record a line of well-received, critically-acclaimed albums for the Hip Bop label. He revisited his traditional jazz and contemporary jazz roots on many of the releases and further honed his craft of live performance, touring extensively as part of various international jazz festivals, musical cruise revues.
Browne’s fearless exploration and experimentation fusing sounds and skirting music genres is only eclipsed by his ability to distill the soul and the funk in timeless memorable music gems, as evidenced in his recently-released album, “Come What May.”