A New Direction : Trumpeter Rick Braun Trades Rock for a More Urban Sound
Rick Braun called to say he’s turning his entire Woodland Hills home into a studio to record his next album.
“I’m taking over the whole house,” said the trumpeter-composer-producer whose 1995 album, “Beat Street,” spent 13 weeks at No. 1 (a record) on Gavin’s jazz-adult-alternative radio play chart.
“One room has a tile floor and wood-beam ceiling that’s perfect for live drums. Another room has wood floors, which resonate with acoustic bass, giving the sound a lot of warmth,” Braun said.
And the bathroom? “The shower stall tends to make a really nice vocal booth,” he said, laughing. “But you have to pick the times you can use it.”
In these days when record producers pull young players out of jam sessions and turn them into the next hot thing, Braun is an anomaly. He’s paid his dues, both as a touring musician and, more recently, as a producer.
Braun appears Wednesday at the Ventura Theatre in “An Evening of Guitars and Saxes and More,” along with guitarists Marc Antoine and Peter White and saxophonist Kirk Whalum. Braun has spent serious time on the road with the likes of War, Rod Stewart, Sade and Glenn Frey.
All that time playing in rock and pop bands has influenced his own direction as an artist. “I’m going more to an urban sound in my own music now,” he said. “I’ve had the opportunity to play with a lot of funky bands in my career so it’s certainly part of my style.”
And, indeed, “Beat Street” took a funky turn away from Braun’s first album recorded for the Mesa Bluemoon label, the cool, moody “Night Walk.” Though more reserved than the current disc, “Walk” was still accessible enough to rank high on contemporary-jazz radio playlists when released in 1994.
“A lot of contemporary music tends to be of the background sort,” Braun explains. “What catches people’s ears, besides a great melody, is the feel of the tune, a good beat that pulls them out of what they’re doing and into the music.”
And that philosophy will guide the making of his next album, even as he covers the well-worn standard “Body and Soul.”
“I’ve always loved that song,” he enthuses. “So many incredible people have done that song--Billie Holiday, John Coltrane. I’m doing a version that starts with a traditional piano thing (Braun also plays keyboards) then moves into the contemporary field. I’ll play muted trumpet. It has to be muted trumpet on that tune.”
The 40-year-old Braun wanted to be a drummer as a kid growing up in Allentown, Pa. But, in deference to family members who feared a continual percussive racket, he took up the trumpet in third grade. He won a scholarship to the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., where he played in the classical orchestra as well as the jazz ensembles.
After leaving Eastman in 1976, he moved to California where he worked with fellow Eastman students in Auracle, the fusion band whose two recordings were produced by Miles Davis’ longtime producer, Teo Macero.
He began earning money writing songs, including “Here With Me” for REO Speedwagon, and was frequently seen playing in the house band at the Baked Potato with keyboardist Don Randi.
His growing visibility led to the gig with War, with whom he traveled for three years in the early ‘80s. Then came a succession of road and studio gigs, the most visible being the stint in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s with British rocker Stewart. He also did session work with a variety of performers, including Tom Petty, Crowded House and Natalie Cole. He was heard on television playing the theme for “Midnight Caller.”
His first, self-produced album (since picked up by Mesa Bluemoon), “Intimate Secrets,” was a quiet ballad-drenched affair that led to the signing with his current record label. Because of his experience in the studio, Braun has also been garnering a reputation as a producer, having worked on projects for fusion guitarist Jeff Golub and Avenue Blue, world-beat duo Willie & Lobo, and guitarist Peppino D’Agostino.
Braun said he’s looking forward to producing his own project, which may include singing on a few cuts. “There hasn’t been a trumpet player who sings since Chet Baker,” he laughed.
And certainly not one recorded in his own shower.
Rick Braun appears in “An Evening of Guitars and Saxes and More” at the Ventura Theatre, 26 S. Chestnut St., Ventura; 8 p.m. Wednesday, $19.50. (805) 648-1888.