Bowdoin, Black Friday, and Free Jazz

By Tom Porter
A recording by former Bowdoin music professor and free jazz pioneer Marion Brown ’74 has been rereleased more than half a century after it was recorded.

The album, Creative Improvisation Ensemble, was recorded in Paris, France, in 1970 by Brown, primarily a saxophonist, and trumpet player Leo Smith. Both musicians also play various percussion on the record.

Forty-eight years after it was last pressed on vinyl, the album has been released as one of Record Store Day’s Black Friday titles, said Chris Brown ’91, chief financial officer at the Maine-based independent record store chain Bull Moose.

brown91 on 207
Chris Brown '91 on 207

Brown was recently interviewed on the WCSH program 207, where he highlighted a number of albums that came out as part of Record Store Day’s Black Friday releases—a concept that was introduced in 2011, Brown said. (NOTE: In 2008 Brown was one of the handful of entrepreneurs who started Record Store Day, now a global, industry-wide celebration of recorded music, held every April.)

The Marion Brown recording is of particular interest to the Bowdoin community, said Chris Brown, because the following year he came to Bowdoin, where he taught as assistant professor of music while simultaneously pursuing his bachelor’s degree. By this time, he had already gained a reputation as a leading member of the New York avant-garde jazz scene, playing alongside such legends as John Coltrane and Archie Shepp.

“Another cool Bowdoin connection,” said Chris Brown, “is that Creative Improvisation Ensemble was later repackaged into a double LP-set titled Duets, and the second LP in Duets was an album featuring Marion Brown and Elliott Schwartz [the pioneering classical composer and Bowdoin’s former Robert K. Beckwith Professor of Music Emeritus who died in 2016.] That album was recorded in Bowdoin’s gym,” explained Brown, who majored in music. One of the reasons he enrolled at Bowdoin, he added, was to study under Schwartz.

The Bowdoin music department, meanwhile, is preparing to award the inaugural Marion Brown Prize, a new annual residency to support emerging composers from underrepresented communities. The prizewinners are expected to be announced in December 2023.