"They want to define jazz in this small little box as something that stopped in 1964. I don't get that. Jazz needs to evolve; it doesn't need to be preserved."
--Nick "The Brownman" Ali, quoted by Galloway.
Born in Trinidad, Nick Ali grew up in New York and now lives and works out of Toronto. He's often characterized as outspoken and, within the context of jazz, controversial. This may be so.
It's also not terribly important. What matters about the Brownman is the blowing, the improbable manipulation of air through metal by digits and throat and lips, the groove and the beat and the sound of Brown, on trumpet, electric trumpet, and flugelhorn. He played his way to winning the 2002 Canadian National Jazz Award for Jazz Composer of the Year-- the youngest person to receive this accolade.
You want to hear jazz for the twenty-first century? Listen to the Brownman.
Ali clearly likes to play, and his style has made him a man in demand. As of 2004, he has appeared on over 130 CDs, playing with and backing a bewildering variety of artists. He also fronts several bands of his own.
The Nick Ali Quartet / The Nick Ali Trio
The name of the band depends on the line-up. They largely play their own take on jazz standards.
The Electryc Trio
The Electryc Trio plays jazz fusion, with nods to Miles Davis's fusion work.
Cruzao plays a fusion of Latin jazz and funk. They won the 2001 "Prix De Jazz Award" for Canadian Jazz Group Of The Year. This crew has also become the centerpiece of Cruzao Grupo Monstruoso, a jazz orchestra.
This ten-piece salsa band features many of the same core musicians as Cruzao.
Perhaps Ali's most commercially-accessible venture, they play improvisational jazz/hip hop. Gruvasylum consists of Brown,freestyle rapper MC Enlight, bassist Marc Rogers, and percussionist Daniel Barnes.
Other bands which feature Ali include Chiva, a latin/hip hop/jazz combo, and offbeat jazz band Oddbawl
In addition to turning up with these bands at a seemingly-impossible number of live venues, he also has a cameo in the 2000 Jennifer Lopez film, Angel Eyes.
About the Nickname
Most people call Ali "Brown" or "Brownman." The nickname dates back to his childhood, when bullies at his predominantly white school called him "Brownboy." He took it as the insult it was meant to be, until a friend asked him why it bothered him so much. "Is it a lie?" the friend asked, genuinely confused. This struck Nick as incredibly funny, and soon thereafter he and his friends began using the nickname, much to the irritation and bafflement of the bullies.
On his 18th birthday, he became "Brownman."
And this doesn't really matter.
What matters is the music. Brown deserves a wider audience.
Listen to the man play.
Nick Ali. Private Conversation. Distillery Jazz Festival, Toronto. 2004.
Nick (The Browman) Ali Website. http://www.brownman.com/
Matt Galloway. "Tough-Talking Trumpeter Rattles Toronto's Jazz Establishment." Now. May 22-28, 2003: 3.