|The music industry is full of stories. Some good. Some not so good. But it must be said, it’s not every day that a magical storyline like Jewel Brown’s comes around. Her journey started back before her teen years. Like most musical talents at the time, Jewel began singing in the church. But it didn’t take her long to start a commercial singing career. In fact, she played her first show when she was just 12, and she was cutting records by the time she was a teenager. Brown recorded a handful of hit songs with Clyde Otis in the mid -1950s for Liberty Records and by the early ’60s she was playing jazz clubs nationally, many of which happened to be owned by Jack Ruby. Yep, that Jack Ruby.
But Jewel Brown was and still is, best known for her work with Louis Armstrong and His All-Star Band. She sang with Satchmo from 1961 until 1968, until Armstrong fell ill. She continued singing for a while after her stint with Armstrong, headlining shows, mainly in Vegas. She stepped out of the limelight in the early ’70s, not because there wasn’t a demand for her talent, but because it was time for her to care for her aging parents. But her success didn’t end with show biz. Jewel started up numerous businesses and enjoyed a successful career as, of all things, an insurance agent, a career she nurtured until retiring from the business in 2000. Jewel still receives calls from people looking to buy insurance from someone “they can trust.”
Though retired, her generations of fans didn’t allow her musical legacy to be forgotten. In 2007 she was inducted into the Blues Smithsonian and in 2015 she received a congressional acknowledgment for her contribution to the arts. And, in 2020, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner set aside December 12, 2020, as Jewel Brown Day.
But the story’s not over, not by a longshot. Today, in her mid-80’s, Jewel Brown is back, this time, for the first time, with songs of her own. Thanks for Good Ole’ Music And Memories is Brown’s long-awaited new recording, done in collaboration with Nic Allen (better known as Joe Sample’s longtime musical director). “Over the years,” Jewel notes in her bio, “I had the opportunity to work with various songwriters, but I never put my name on anything. I feel like the Lord has given back to me what was taken, and I’ve enjoyed doing a lot of writing lately with Nic.”
The ten sultry and sassy jazz and blues-inflected tracks of Jewel Brown’s Thanks for Good Ole’ Music and Memories reflect not only a thriving songwriting collaboration between her and the album’s producer Nic Allen, but also an acknowledgment of the singer’s formidable legacy both in some of the lyrics of the originals, and in the choices to revisit two songs that touch on important parts of her musical history. “Jerry” (featuring RADS Krusaders & Live! In the Clutch) is all sassy, funked up Latin/soul-jazz magic as she tells the colorful tale of the violent life of the “Arkansas Mule.” Over several mood swings and rhythmic changes, Brown brings a sense of sweet intimacy to “Song of the Dreamer” (composed by her ex, Eddie Curtis) arranged as a horn-drenched R&B ballad with touches of jazz and blues. It’s a song about getting back to her beloved; taken metaphorically, we can apply it to her long-awaited return to music.
The new track that Brown feels best captures her professional life is the soulful, easy swinging ballad “On The Road,” which has one of her most passionate, emotional vocals. Like many of the songs, it also has a playful call and response element between Brown’s lead and a trio of male background vocalists that include Allen. The lyrics “I’m loving the beautiful view/I’m always thinking of you” remind her of her days away from home, touring with Armstrong, and even the euphoric feeling of her first gig with the trumpet legend in Geneva, Switzerland.
Another song that artfully captures that spirit of lead vocal/backing vocal interaction is the breezy, tropical, urban jazz flavored “Why Did You Do That?” Over a simmering, spirited light bluesy swing vibe, the guys ask the question and, in the verses, in her big, edgy voice, explains why she doesn’t want to be a part of another person’s foolishness and prefers instead to take the Lord’s path to goodness. Another highlight among the originals is “Nitches and Glitches,” a sensual and atmospheric, attitude driven soul-jazz jam (with sizzling horn arrangements) that finds Brown fed up with her lover’s game playing and ready to move on – with the male chorus emphasizing the title and encouraging her to get out. Other highlights include the jangling, old school rock- tinged R&B romp “Which Way Is Up,” about trying to get her life back in order; and the a cappella testament of faith “Pain and Glory,” where Brown gives her poignant and empowering testimony of faith over a chorus of gospel flavored male vocals.
So, no, it’s not your typical throwaway comeback recording. Thanks for Good Ole’ Music and Memories is an inspired reintroduction of an impressive talent, an important musical figure, and, best of all, an incredible voice.