Kansas' Norman Brown is a hugely successful guitarist with a warm, yet technically adroit approach to smooth jazz and instrumental R&B. Born in Kansas City, Brown first became interested in the guitar at age eight, when he grew fond of his brother's acoustic six-string. He was initially influenced by such guitar-based acts as Jimi Hendrix and the Isley Brothers, but once he discovered one of his father's favorite guitarists, Wes Montgomery, everything changed. Rather than play, for instance, material by Earth, Wind & Fire in local bands, Brown began playing contemporary jazz tunes and standards. His increasing interest in jazz guitar led him to Los Angeles in the mid-'80s, where he studied formally at the Musician's Institute in Hollywood. Following his graduation, he taught briefly and signed to Motown's Mo Jazz label, where he splashed onto the soul-jazz scene with 1992's Just Between Us. Suddenly critics drew comparisons to other astonishing jazz guitarists from the past such as George Benson and Wes Montgomery, and Brown became the toast of the soul-jazz crowd.
It was Brown's sophomore album, however, 1996's After the Storm, that found him breaking through to the top echelon of smooth jazz artists. Both Gavin and Soul Train named it Jazz Album of the Year, and After the Storm remained on the charts for over two years. On the heels of his remarkable success, Brown continued to wow jazz listeners. His eagerly awaited follow-up, Better Days Ahead, won the 1997 American Jazz Award for contemporary guitar and the album's title track became the most-added single in NAC history until that point.
Following his flurry of successes at Mo Jazz, Brown moved to Warner Bros. and released several more well-received albums, including 1999's Celebration and 2002's Grammy Award-winning Just Chillin'. Also in 2002, Brown debuted his smooth jazz supergroup with saxophonist Kirk Whalum and trumpeter Rick Braun, BWB, with the album Groovin'. He then returned to his solo work with 2004's West Coast Coolin', followed two years later by Stay with Me on the Peak label.
Brown then signed with longtime jazz label Concord and released 2010's Sending My Love. Two years later, he paired with saxophonist Gerald Albright for the Concord release 24/7. Also in 2013, he rejoined BWB for Human Nature. In 2016, Brown continued to split his time, releasing his third album with BWB, and delivering his first solo effort for the Shanachie label, Let It Go. ~ Jason Birchmeier