Mic Check: Norman Brown talks unity with new album, ‘Heart to Heart’

Jazz guitarist Norman Brown released his latest album, "Heart to Heart," in August 2020.

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Editor’s note: With live music and concert reviews on hold due to COVID-19, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is focusing on how Georgia musicians are spending their time in our feature, Mic Check.

Norman Brown has played with everyone from George Benson to Peabo Bryson, Brian McKnight to Gerald Albright.

Since his youth in Kansas City, Kansas, the jazz guitar great and singer immersed himself in music as diverse as Jimi Hendrix and Wes Montgomery.

He’s taught music in California, won a Grammy (in 2002, for “Just Chillin',”), hit No. 1 on the smooth jazz radio charts (in 2007, with “Let’s Take a Ride”) and become a musical staple on the Weather Channel.

And for the past six years, Brown has resided in Jonesboro (“It’s a nice quality of life,” he said), where, in between embracing spirituality and studying tai chi, he continues to produce new music.

In August, Brown released his 12th studio album, “Heart to Heart,” a warm fusion of jazz, pop, blues and R&B. A remarkable parade of musicians joins Brown on the collection, including guitarists Peter White and Paul Brown, drummers Sonny Emory and Lil' John Roberts and percussionist Lenny Castro (Brown said he recorded all of his parts at his home studio).

In a recent interview from his Jonesboro haven, the soft-spoken Brown talked about his life during the coronavirus pandemic and the appropriate timing of his new album.

Q: What have you been doing these past few months? I understand that meditation is a big part of your life.

A: A lot of tai chi. I’ve time to get back to those lessons and do a lot of online instruction. I’ve been doing a lot of teaching as well since the lockdown. I did a “Musicianship” masterclass series that included improv, technique, composition and production and a series of private lessons on Zoom. I started a school, The Burning Academy. I so love teaching. I taught 12 years prior to recording in California at the Musician’s Institute (in North Hollywood). I so missed that. This gave me a chance to stop and focus on teaching for a while. It’s all online and I get to do it from home. I’ve never not flown this long. I haven’t been anywhere since January. I’ve always asked for this — to have a year off — and here it is.

Guitarist Norman Brown lives in Jonesboro, Ga.

Credit: Michael Johnson

Credit: Michael Johnson

Q: What have you been listening to?

A: I did go back and start listening to Return to Forever (Chick Corea’s ’70s-era jazz fusion group). Usually when I listen to something, I do it over and over and over. A lot of times for me, it takes me down memory lane. I’ll remember things I practiced, how it may have shaped my ears and maybe how some of my compositions were inspired. It puts a picture in your mind of some journey.

Q: What do you miss about life?

A: I don’t miss the travel. The main thing would be the interaction with fans. Feeling their vibe and seeing their faces and being able to shake their hands, get a hug.

Q: With “Heart to Heart,” you wanted it to have a message and feeling of togetherness. Your timing seems appropriate.

A: It’s about unity. Everybody wants to feel good, period. We have to understand that we’re made from the same source; we seem to be losing sight of that. We’re interrelated, interconnected, therefore we are interdependent. We should be as loving as we can, because what I do to you, I do to me. And that’s the whole idea behind this record. (Songs such as) “Unconditional,” “Heart to Heart,” “The Brighter My Light Shines” — these are divine principles that are divine laws of the universe. Man will do himself a great favor by being kind to each other. Those are the things that glue us together. We’re isolated now, but weirdly it has unified us more. We’re so worried about race this and gender that — the world encompasses so many elements and these elements are interconnected and therefore they relate to each other.

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