Oakland Jazz Quartet
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Oakland Jazz Quartet

Rochester, Michigan, United States | SELF

Rochester, Michigan, United States | SELF
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When Marvin “Doc” Holladay started the jazz program at Oakland University in the late ‘70s, it was the first of its kind in the state of Michigan.
“Oakland was known nationally for their jazz program,” said Jackie Wiggins, chair of the music, dance and theatre department.
Though it never went away, the program faded during the late ‘80s after Holladay left OU until professor Danny Jordan revitalized it.
When Jordan died in May following a long illness, Wiggins said replacing him became “a bit of a challenge.”
New this year to the MTD department are four jazz instructors who are looking to pick up where Jordan left off. Miles Brown was chosen as the new director of the program.
“We’re just in the stages of building up the program,” said Brown. “I’m trying to attract more interest.”
Brown, who’s played since grade school, has a master’s degree in classical bass performance from the Mannes College of Music and is in the process of earning his doctorate in jazz performance studies from the Eastman School of Music where he earned his bachelor’s degree.
Last year Brown served as the Gussman Director of Jazz at Cornell University.
As the jazz program’s only full-time faculty member, he also led two jazz ensembles and four jazz combos.
He also plays in a 20-member chamber orchestra called Alarm Will Sound.
Joining Brown are Jiana Hunter, Tad Weed and jazz drummer Sean Dobbins. Applied instructors Hunter and Weed teach jazz vocals and piano, respectively.
Hunter both attended and taught at The School for the Creative and Performing Arts in Cincinnati and has a Master of Music degree in jazz studies performance from Western Michigan University.
She also teaches at the Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit.
OU is one of several schools where Weed teaches jazz piano. He is also in the Oakland Jazz Quartet with Brown, Dobbins and Mark Stone, who plays steel drums and vibraphone and is director of OU’s world music program. The quartet will have their first performance Feb. 6 at 8 p.m. in the Varner Recital Hall.
Dobbins joins Regina Carter as an artist in residence.
The Detroiter has performed, toured and recorded with a slew of local and national acts and is currently touring the Caribbean with famed pianist Johnny O’Neal.
Stone said all four are extremely talented musicians in their own right, but also have the “ability to communicate that knowledge with our students.”
“It’s exciting to see a high level of jazz brought back,” Stone said. “Having these guys join the faculty has been uplifting and rejuvenating.”
One of Brown’s plans for the jazz program is to implement a jazz minor, provided there’s enough interest.
He’d also like to see “a lot more community involvement” through playing at high schools and other local venues.
Currently, Brown is only scheduled to be at OU for one year as a visiting professor, but he likes the university so far and hopes to stay.
“Ideally, I’d be here for a long time,” said Brown, whose wife’s family lives in Livonia.
This semester, Brown teaches a jazz theory class and is in charge of the OU Jazz Band, a 21-student jazz ensemble.
They’ll be teaming up with the Jazz Singers to perform Wednesday at 8 p.m. in Varner Recital Hall.
Auditions to be in the ensemble are open to all OU students until Jan. 4. Those interested should contact Professor Brown at brown239@oakland.edu.
Stone said the chance for students to work alongside their professors who are also performers is an important aspect of jazz.
“One thing all of these guys are rooted in is the tradition of mentorship,” Stone said. “I hope they inspire our students in the way that they inspire me.” - The Oakland Post


There’s a joke among guitar players that a bassist is their “seventh string.” Jazz guitarist Steve Brown used to joke around with his wife that he would “grow his own bass player” if he could. The joke became reality when they had a son, Miles, who grew up to play bass guitar.
The Browns will perform together again Thursday at Oakland University with the Oakland Jazz Quartet, which Miles is a member of. It’ll be far from their first shared performance.
“We’ve been playing together ever since I’ve been able to play the bass,” said Miles Brown, who first played live with his father when he was 12. “We can relate on a deeper level than just a pickup group.”
The first song they played, fittingly, was “So What” by Miles Davis, who Steve Brown named his son after.
“I started (Miles) very early,” Steve Brown said. “By the time he was 15, I was using him regularly as my first-call bass player.”
Steve Brown’s father, Glenn, was also a jazz musician. He played marimba with the Xavier Cugat Orchestra in the ‘40s and ‘50s. Steve Brown played shows with his father as he does now with Miles.
Steve Brown, who resides in Ithaca, N.Y., taught music for 40 years before retiring in 2008. He created the jazz program at Ithaca College and served as its director from 1968 to 2008. He still teaches clinics and performs globally.
Because Steve Brown lives in New York and Miles lives in Michigan, the two typically only see each other when they perform together, outside of holidays.
“He’s never been to Detroit before … and I thought it’d be fun” for him to play with the Oakland Jazz Quartet, Miles Brown said.
Oakland Jazz Quartet formed in 2009 and made its campus debut this February. In addition to Miles Brown, it consists of drummer Sean Dobbins, pianist Tad Weed and vibraphone player Mark Stone — all of whom are OU jazz faculty.
“I’m excited to play with Sean Dobbins, who I met at (Miles’) wedding,” Steve Brown said. “He’s a marvelous drummer.”
The concert will also feature two music education students — Quincy Stewart, who plays trumpet, and Matt Dufresne, a tenor saxophone player — who were selected because of their prior professional experience.
“I’m a father of a son about Miles’ age or so, and I know what a great feeling a father has, doing something with your son that you both dig,” Stewart said. “So I’m always glad to be included in that dynamic.”
Unlike Stewart, who has two sons — one whose name is also Miles — he performs with on occasion, Dufresne has never played with family before.
“All those guys (in the quartet) are great, but Miles and Steve are family,” Dufresne said. “I’m pretty interested in being a part of that dynamic when they must know each other’s playing pretty well.”
Stewart and Dufresne will join the group for two songs: “On the Sunny Side of the Street” and “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home.”
The concert will also feature compositions written by both of the Browns, including Miles’ “Share My Love,” and Steve’s “Two Birds, One Stone.”
As part of his trip to OU, Steve Brown will be holding a master class with Oakland’s big band jazz ensemble Thursday at 4 p.m. in 110 Varner Hall. After listening to them perform, he will offer a critique.
For common interests between Steve and Miles Brown, Steve said “music really is it for us” but that their shared love of music runs very deep.
“There are two kinds of music: Good music and bad music,” Steve Brown said. “We’re both interested in all kinds of good music.”
Oakland Jazz Quartet will perform with Steve Brown and two students in Varner Recital Hall on Thursday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $13 for general admission, $7 for students and can be purchased at Varner Box Office and www.starticketsplus.com
Visit www.oakland.edu/jazz for more information about Oakland Jazz. - The Oakland Post


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Oakland Jazz Quartet Bio

Recently formed in 2009, The Oakland Jazz Quartet is Oakland University’s jazz ensemble-in-residence, and is a group dedicated to high standards of jazz performance and education. Comprised of the jazz faculty at Oakland University’s Department of Music, Theatre, and Dance, the OJQ performs a versatile array of music including traditional jazz, African drum music, and modern classical music. The group’s usual members are Miles Brown, bass, Sean Dobbins, drums, Tad Weed, piano, and Mark Stone, percussion. The Oakland Jazz Quartet has performed in schools and jazz venues around Metro Detroit, and gives concerts featuring world-class musicians such as Regina Carter, Vincent Chandler, Kim Nazarian, Jay Ashby, and John Stowell. The OJQ is also on a mission to bring jazz to the community, and is available to outreach programs and clinics in schools and community colleges. For more information about the group and its members, go to www.oakland.edu/jazz.