Nick "Brownman" Ali
By Janey Llewellyn
I was first exposed to the genius of Nick "Brownman" Ali at the NOW lounge in mid-September. I remember it well because once he started wailing on his trumpet, my jaw dropped to the floor.
Not only was he the best trumpet player that I had ever seen or heard, but his musical style combining jazz, latin, and funk was exactly what I had been waiting for.
I caught up with Brownman again at the Berlin nightclub where he was playing with Evaristo y su Orquesta, a 13 piece Cuban band that he directs. During his set break, Brownman and I went to the bar next door to grab a quick beer so that I could figure out how he does it.
“Everybody wants the secret. There is no secret; the secret is six hours a day of practice, 17 years of your life.”
It was love at first sight when Brownman first discovered his affinity for the trumpet. “Oh man, just the feel of the horn, the feel of the case in my hand, the way the valves slide, the shape of the bell, everything about the physical nature of the horn,” says Brownman.
“Then I started listening to real trumpet players and going ‘oh my god,’ this beautiful object can do that? I must do this! So I started to play and I was terrible! All trumpet players are terrible at first, you can’t help it, but I loved it, I didn’t care how bad I was.”
All that practising certainly paid off for Brownman. “I’m one of the most called upon trumpet players for the latin community. It's a great honour to be accepted by this culture that I wasn't born to, but have been a student of all my life."
“Lately, in the last three years, the tunes have been fairly solid, and that’s not an egomaniacal statement. As an objective composer and trained musician, it’s only lately that I’ve listened to my own compositions and said, ‘hey, that sounds really good.’” Brownman explains before taking a long swig of his Guinness.
Brownman has recently expanded his musical realms. “I’m a really notey player — that’s the way I think. I’m learning that it doesn’t always have to be like that. But at the same time you have to embrace who you are. It’s more like an expansion of a concept than a neglect of a concept.”
He continues, “The art and the music should be as selfless as possible. My own egomaniacal vision can only come to a degree and after that the music has something to say on its own and has nothing to do with me. In the greater sense of art, I actually am a conduit for a greater thing and what comes out of me; I’m only a channel for something greater.”
Brownman’s inexhaustible talents have him leading four groups with a fair bit of ease. He explains, “I love it from a musical vision standpoint. All the madness in my head gets to be out on a paper. It comes to fruition in such a way that I’m happy with it. So, as an artist it’s extremely satisfying. I hate the administrative side… I have no people, I have to do everything. I have to do all the booking, I have to be the agent of all these groups, the composer, the arranger, the copyist, the musical director, the guy that pays everybody. A lot of energy goes into it.”
“Why do I it?” asks Brownman. “Because when I get up on stage, when you reach the end of the path and I stand there with the horn in my hand and playing these tunes, it’s all worth it, it all falls away.”
Marcus Ali, Brownman’s younger brother, plays for two of his bands. Marcus didn’t always meet Brownman’s expectations, however. “People would ask me when I was younger, why don’t you play with your brother? I would say, cause he sucks and it was true.
“Marcus has grown and flourished into an incredible musician. He really is one of the best altos I know. And I’m not saying that because he’s my brother…he is a very gifted alto saxophonist whose concept of latin music is extremely developed. We’re both some of the top called players in that industry. It’s thrilling, and he’s my brother so he can read my mind, you’ve seen it and there’s a connection there that I don’t have with anyone else. It’s pretty heavy.”
Taking the last gulp of his half-pint of Guinness, Brownman looks up to say, “I’m not a religious fan, I don’t have any grandeur beliefs but I do know that I was put on this earth for this horn. It’s a real love affair with that horn and there was no question that I was [born] a trumpet player. From young, I always knew.”
What are Brownman’s plans for the future? “I’d like to be on the road more... bringing my visions of art to as many people as I can. I would like to make CDs of all my groups and have them distributed as globally as possible... not in a Britney Spears/Nsync let’s-saturate-the-market-with-our-pedantic-bullshit kinda way... but for the music to be available and easily attainable to anyone and everyone who might enjoy it.”
Check out www.brownman.com for more information on Nick "Brownman" Ali