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· Registered
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Dear Sax on the Web Friends:

My friends Ernie Kalwa and the Royal City Saxophone Quartet, from Ontario, Canada, have just released their latest CD, "Smiles & Chuckles"-Celebrating the Music of the Six Brown Brothers. This CD is a wonderful tribute to a group that was responsible for the "saxophone craze" of the 1920's, and subsequently, the saxophone's popularity in American Music.

The Royal City Saxophone Quartet specializes in the Ragtime genre, and this latest CD has really thrilled me with fresh renditions of this music. The extensive liner notes are by Dr. Bruce Vermazen, noted historian on the Six Brown Brothers.

Though RCSQ is a quartet, for the quintet and sextet pieces, they recorded four parts together, then dubbed additional parts as needed. Instruments include soprano, alto, C melody, tenor, baritone, and bass saxophones.

This is a must-have CD for fans of the bass saxophone, Ragtime, and most importantly, the Six Brown Brothers. Available from CBC Records,, order number MVCD 1160. Also available from the RCSQ website at .

I know you will be pleased with this CD... and I am sure the Six Brown Brothers would be, too.

Paul R. Coats
Columnist, Sax On The Web

· Distinguished Member, Forum Contributor 2008
3,920 Posts
I've got a copy of this disc, and really sounds terrific. I'll be writing a review of it for Wholenote magazine here in Toronto for the September issue.

· Banned
107 Posts

Can you share your review with us as well?

My copy arrived this week and it is an excellent CD!! These guys are great! I specially like the original-new-original mix in the bonus tracks!

Great bit of work!

StevenW 8)

· Forum Founder
3,958 Posts
Saxophone History and The Six Brown Brothers

Paul Coats said:
...Read Bruce Vermazen's historical sketch here:
The story was removed from the quoted site. However found it here:

There was a story yesterday in Boston Globe linking The Six Brown Brothers closely to the success of the saxophone. I could not find the net link anymore, so I paste the salient parts:

Joshua Glenn said:
When the saxophone was still cool
"THE SAXOPHONE IS, unaided, a humorist. It looks like a sea horse and sounds like a canned fiddle." So wrote one critic in 1912 about an instrument that had only just begun to catch on. By the mid-1920s the sax had sparked its own craze, and it was subsequently taken very seriously indeed by such jazz luminaries as Lester Young, Charlie Parker, and Stan Getz.

According to Bruce Vermazen, a retired UC-Berkeley philosopher and author of "That Moaning Saxophone" (Oxford), published this month, we have an unlikely figure to thank for this turn of events: Tom Brown, the blackface-wearing frontman of a now-forgotten act, Six Brown Brothers, whose musical comedy wowed audiences across North America from 1908 to 1933. (This month Archeophone Records is releasing "Those Moaning Saxophones," a Six Brown Brothers compilation with liner notes by Vermazen.) Ideas telephoned Vermazen at home in San Diego.

IDEAS: How did a professor of analytic philosophy wind up writing a comprehensive biography of an obscure vaudeville act?

VERMAZEN: As a teenager I picked up a Six Brown Brothers 78 at a rummage sale. In the `70s, while teaching at Berkeley and playing cornet in a ragtime band, I started researching the act, which, though often credited with starting the saxophone craze of the `20s, remained a mystery. Then in 1996, I met the 84-year-old son of Tom Brown, who was thrilled that I cared about the Six Brown Brothers and gave me a wealth of material.

IDEAS: The Frenchman Adolphe Sax invented the saxophone in 1838. Why did it take 75 years for it to gain a foothold in American popular music?

VERMAZEN: Economics. For decades, saxophones were luxury items. So composers didn't write saxophone parts, and musicians didn't buy the instruments. But in the 1890s, because it looked funny the sax began to be used for comic effect. Tom Brown performed as a minstrel bandsman and spent time in the Ringling Brothers' Circus band before convincing his five brothers -- along with the occasional non-family member -- to form a musical comedy act.

IDEAS: What was the act like?

VERMAZEN: In blackface and enormous shoes, Tom Brown coaxed a vast repertoire of extramusical sounds -- imitations of chickens and bullfrogs, buzzes and squeals, wordless speech -- from the group's instruments. Then, after warming the audience up with their antics, the sextet -- the other five wore clown costumes and whiteface -- knocked `em down with popular ragtime tunes.

IDEAS: Their 1914 record "That Moaning Saxophone Rag" sold 200,000 copies. What was so "surprising," as the song puts it, about the sax?

· Distinguished SOTW Member/Sax Historian
7,147 Posts
I guess it's time to spring this...My pal Dan Levinson is organizing a live performance of several Brown Bros. pieces for the New York launching party of Bruce's book (which I heartily recommend to sax nuts, BTW...a great mix of sociomusicological musing and sublime names-places-and-dates geekitude).

The sextet will include Marc Phaneuf and Pete Martinez on altos; Dan and myself on tenors; Andy Stein on bari; and of course Vince Giordano on bass. We're planning on about a 45 minute set during the party, which will be Thursday, May 27, at 7pm, at Housing Works bookstore, 126 Crosby St., Soho.
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