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Blues and boogie-woogie pianist Mark Lincoln Braun (a.k.a. Mr. B) has become one of the premiere purveyors of a vanishing art. Having learned his craft first-hand from the early masters, he is a rare living link to the first generation of blues and boogie pianists. Steeped in the rich legacy of this tremendously exciting music, Mr. B learned directly from blues and boogie legends like Little Brother Montgomery, Boogie Woogie Red, and Blind John Davis. He has appeared on numerous National Public Radio broadcasts, including Mountain Stage, Good Evening, Our Front Porch, The Flea Market, At the Bride, and All things Considered. This collection of originals, Joybox, with bassist Paul Keller and drummer Pete Siers, is dedicated to the memory of Boogie Woogie Red.

 
 
 
 
Long ago, it's been said, some people called pianos Joyboxes. It's perfect, this idea, and I'd like to help revive it. The piano is one of my principle pleasures. There's nothing I like better than the chance to hear one of my favorites stretching out for a few hours, or to play myself for a group of like-minded souls.
 
I came late to the piano, not playing at all until the age of fifteen. Learning slowly at first, I attempted without any instruction bits and pieces of all that was then in my ears.
 
At that time (early 1970's), a teenager could easily be exposed to pop and rock bands that were themselves inspired by blues artists. It wasn't long until I began to look back and discover these musicians in a way that is now a familiar story to many others of my generation. At the same time, I was exposed to the music my parents loved, Ellington, Basie, Hampton, Armstrong, and most memorably Pete Johnson, playing fantastic blues and boogie woogie piano behind singer Jimmy Rushing.
 
Then, at age seventeen, my father gave me a Jimmy Yancey record and my fate was sealed. The next decade or so I became obsessed with learning all I could about traditional blues piano playing. I collected records to learn from, and sought out everyone I could who would show me directly something about how to play.
 
During those years, I became a frequent visitor to the homes of Little Brother Montgomery, Blind John Davis, Sunnyland Slim, Champion Jack Dupree, Boogie Woogie Red, and anyone else who had something to show me.
 
These were great times, and I felt fortunate. During this time, I was playing in a succession of bands and then in 1984 I recorded my first solo record which led to my going to Europe where I recorded again. I've been playing on my own in various configurations ever since, from solos to big bands, and everything in between.
 
From the beginning, I've enjoyed writing music as well as learning and playing the classics. This recording has been an opportunity for me to put together some of my favorite pieces that I've written. Some are brand new, some have been recorded in other contexts, and some were written when I was just starting out on my own. I've loved playing them with this trio, thanks for listening, and enjoy.
 
Mark Lincoln Braun

 

Dedicated to the memory of Boogie Woogie Red

 

1. Rockin' with Red 3:51
2. Circle Blues 8:59
3. My Sunday Best 6:18
4. Deep Excavation 8:54
5. I Never Looked Away from You 5:37
6. Hallelujah Train 5:19
7. Joybox Rocks 4:16
8. The Ray 4:20
9. White Sox 4:04
10. Little Brother 6:16
11. Cornell Street 3:40
12. Hillbilly Holiday 4:58

 

 
Piano: Mark Lincoln Braun
Bass: Paul Keller
Drums: Pete Siers
Washboard on track 12: Pete Siers
Banjos on track 12: Faron Square & Will Spencer
 
Recorded at Solid Sound Studio, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Engineered & Mastered by Will Spencer
Remastered by John Palmer at Andro-Media
Photos: David Smith
Digital Imaging: Pat Young
 
All tracks composed by Mark Lincoln Braun (BMI)
Joybox Music Publishing, except track 10 Viper Music
 
 
 
About the Trio
This is a group I have worked with when I can, but scheduling is tricky with all three of us leading projects of our own. This session was a great chance to write arrangements and play together. Everyone contributed. Thanks Pete and Paul.
 
Bassist Paul Keller is one of the finest players in the Detroit area, one of the richest regions ever for this instrument. He is the leader of the sixteen-piece Bird of Paradise Orchestra, the Keller-Kocher Quartet, and the Paul Keller Ensemble. He has toured for much of the last few years and is again touring this summer of 1998 with pianist and vocalist Diana Krall and was featured on her Impulse recording "All For You". Paul is also a composer and arranger and a great fan of traditional forms in jazz. His unbridled passion for swinging hard made him perfect for this session.
 
Drummer Pete Siers is one of the most in-demand musicians in the greater Detroit area. He's worked with Frank Morgan, Doc Cheetham, Mulgrew Miller, James Moody, and countless others. Recently Pete was featured on guitarist Russell Malone's Columbia recording "Black Butterfly". Pete regularly works in a variety of contexts: trios, Latin bands, big bands, and currently leads his own quartet exploring new ways to play the music. His versatility and great listening abilities made him a natural for this project.
 
About the Songs
Many of these pieces were inspired by my love for the work of other pianists. In those cases these pieces are my tributes to those artists and all that they offered to me, with thanks.
 
Rockin' with Red
For 12 years, I spent every possible "Blue Monday" listening to and observing Boogie Woogie Red (Vernon Harrison) in the basement of the Blind Pig Cafe in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Red was one of Detroit's finest post-war blues pianists. He came up playing on Hastings Street listening to Big Maceo and Charlie Spand, and playing and recording with John Lee Hooker, Sonny Boy Williamson, and many others. I miss his unique way of playing and jiving with people more than I can say.
 
Circle Blues
This is my most recently completed piece included here. It was titled by a woman in the audience while I played "in the round" at a church last New Year's Eve. It was inspired by the mood in the sanctuary, with a gospel feel beginning to end, and a middle section of southern style country blues piano inspired by the great Otis Spann.
 
My Sunday Best
In Ypsilanti, Michigan, at radio station WEMU, a show is broadcast every Sunday morning from ten until one bearing the name "The Sunday Best". It's hosted by a remarkable young man named Dr. Arwulf Arwulf. The focus of his show is early jazz, though I know him to be a serious fan of jazz of all eras. Thanks to Arwulf and WEMU, I'm regularly surprised by beautiful music I've never heard. The title of this tune is borrowed from his show and offered back to him with thanks.
 
Deep Excavation
Horace Silver is one of the funkiest, blues playing pianists in jazz who I've listened to since my teens. He continues to write and play some of the hippest music anywhere. This one's for him. Check out Paul and Pete here.
 
I Never Looked Away From You
Art Hodes was a unique talent, a great blues and traditional jazz pianist born in Russia, but made on the south side of Chicago. Art's playing was beautiful, warm and sweet, but funky too, before that word became part of the vernacular. The last time I saw Art he was playing unnoticed on a stage in a shopping mall in the suburbs of Chicago. Even there his love of playing came through.
 
Hallelujah Train
I first played around with the ideas in this tune on a gig in Portland, Oregon, several years ago and have developed it over time. It was the title track of an earlier recording I made with the Bird of Paradise Orchestra. Here traditional boogie piano meets gospel. Someday, I'd like to record this with a choir.
 
Joybox Rocks
This tune is an improvisation over a traditional bass figure used by scores of pianists, associated with Jimmy Yancey.
 
The Ray
Ray Bryant is one of my favorites, always close to the blues, always swinging, with a beautiful sense of time and tone. I played this for him in an impromptu and unforgettable evening spent trading turns with him and Bob Seeley at a small upright in a cafe in Paris in February of 1998.
 
White Sox
This is my tribute to Jimmy Yancey, and a nod to his day job as a groundskeeper at Comiskey Park. Jimmy was one of Chicago's greatest blues pianists in the early years, when a day gig was standard for a musician playing the blues.
 
Little Brother
I loved Little Brother Montgomery. The first time I met him I was about 19 and went uninvited to his house where, after introductions, I was asked in and after a while was asked to play for him. After I started playing, he got up abruptly and left the room, giving me a sinking feeling. Soon though, he came back and sat down quietly in his favorite chair by the piano. About fifteen minutes later, we heard a knock on the door and Brother opened it to let in none other than Sunnyland Slim whom he had called as I started to play. An unforgettable day passed playing and hanging out with these two greats, the first of many I spent with Brother, learning the piano from a master. Later, Brother gave me two of his many hats, momentos of those wonderful visits to his home he shared with his wife, Jan.
 
Cornell Street
This title comes from the south side Chicago street where Little Brother Montgomery lived, where he played a similar left hand figure for me one day. He used it differently, maybe underneath "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie".
 
Hillbilly Holiday
This tune was written during a gig I have playing on the street corner at the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair. I've done it every year for 18 years, this July. I play equal parts on and off for about 11 hours a day, for 4 days in a row. The temperature is usually in the 90's, with steamy humidity rising from the blacktop. It's a workout. I tell people, playing boogie is really a sport. Anyway, a sense of humor comes easily to the music in these surroundings.

 

 

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Last updated February 25, 2013.
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