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All that jazz... And reggae, soul, R&B...

DIVERSE: Ciyo Brown

IT'S NOT uncommon for artists to describe their style and influences as eclectic. That is certainly the case with guitarist Ciyo Brown.

The Jamaican-born, UK-raised musician, who has performed with the likes of The Brand New Heavies and Steel Pulse prides himself on his varied musical output – and rubbishes the critique of those who have told him his music is too varied.

His latest album Put A Little Jazz In Their Lives follows the eclectic trend of his previous five offerings, this time blending jazz and reggae, along with other styles. And the celebrated musician says he’s immensely proud to express his Jamaican heritage through his music, whilst incorporating a range of other styles in his work.

How do you describe your music?

I have been exposed to an extremely wide variety of music from as far back as I can remember. My parents were from Jamaica and appreciated an extremely wide palette of musical styles from all over the world, which I was inevitably exposed to as a child. So that Jamaicanised and well re-coined phrase, the Blue Spot Gram had jazz, blues, rhythm and blues, ska, blue beat, rock, pop, classical, bossa nova, Cuban salsa, rock steady and reggae vibrations pumping out of it continuously. So my music has often been described as eclectic.

The latest album, Put A Little Jazz In Their Lives is for all intents and purposes a jazz-reggae project. However, there are also noticeable references to soul, R&B and Latin music. I do like to celebrate diversity in my music.

What inspired your love of music and how long have you played the guitar?

From the age of three I remember watching my father in particular polishing his records and playing them regularly in his spare time. He used to allow me to play his records, which was an absolute thrill for me. In terms of playing the guitar, my father was the main influence there as he was a guitarist himself having been taught how to play by his father. He came from a pretty impressive lineage of guitarists, banjo and mandolin players. My father used to play to us as children and it is one of the happiest and most memorable experiences that I have ever had in my life. Learning how to play the guitar was therefore one of the most natural things to me because I was brought up in the tradition.

Are there any musicians you liken your style to?

I have several influences and my outlook on music has been shaped by so many musicians and vocalists. The list is non-exhaustive and includes the likes of George Benson, Ernest Ranglin, Monty Alexander, Wes Montgomery, and John Coltrane, to name a few.

People have often made reference to the likes of George Benson, Ernest Ranglin and Earl Klugh in my guitar style – but these three geniuses are my heroes and I would not make the mistake of likening myself to them! Whilst I have certainly been influenced by a whole range of other people it has always been my intention to try and carve out a style and sound that people recognize as essentially my own. I am still working at it.

What has been your proudest achievement to date?

There are a number of milestones that make me feel very proud. They include performing as Musical Director to Ann Nasby of Sound of Blackness fame, actually meeting my guitar hero and maestro George Benson, doing an American tour with Steel Pulse and producing six of my own albums!

Reggae and jazz are two genres that are often considered ‘niche’ within the mainstream British music scene. Is there any danger that your fusion of both genres might make people consider your music even more ‘specialist’, and therefore be unsure of how to market it?

Good question! I have been told for years, particularly by various individuals in the music industry that my music is too varied and that I will end up confusing listeners, radio DJs, etc. I am having none of this! My view has always been that this was simply an escape hatch; an excuse not to work hard and to come up with inventive ways of marketing a product that has an eclectic edge to it. As far as I am concerned marketing it is not as difficult as the industry makes out.

There was a time when pop music was littered with ingenious arrangements, clever musical construction, and beautiful and extremely interesting harmonic content. Our ears were accustomed to that sound and content. It is all a question of giving people the opportunity to become accustomed to or familiar with a certain type of sound. And by mixing jazz with reggae and including soul, R&B and Latin influences, I have potentially appealed to a much wider market of people. It therefore, makes perfect sense to me to continue with my approach.

What are your hopes for your new album?

I have a number of aspirations for this album to include the promotion of diversity in music; a metaphor for life. In addition, I would like to be able to help raise the profile of jazz-reggae as a self-contained genre of music and have taken a proverbial leaf out of the great Ernest Ranglin’s book. He is such an inspiration to me and continues to fly that Jamaican musical flag.

Other aspirations include playing support to major artists, a process that has already begun with my new band supporting Incognito and the Brand New Heavies at the recent Under The Stars festival. I would also like to perform at the major jazz and blues festivals to include the festivals held in the Caribbean.

Anything else you care to add?

It is important for me to be able to express my Jamaican lineage through my music. I am acutely aware that we all tend to want to copy or imitate American artists and their music. I have of course, grown up on American styles of music and enjoy embracing that. However, it is equally important for me as a Jamaican to express this aspect of myself but through the eyes and heart of someone who is also British. I am extremely proud of my Jamaican and British roots and hope that my music continues to portray this.

Put A Little Jazz In Their Lives is out now. For more information visit www.ciyobrown.com

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