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Baron Browne Obituary
March 5, 1960 – September 2, 2021
Written by Michael West


Baron Browne, a bassist who was an important figure in the jazz world, died early on the morning of September 2 at his home in Randolph, Massachusetts after a long and courageous
battle with cancer. He was 61.

Browne was profoundly accomplished in a variety of styles, enabling him to work with a diverse cast of musicians, from Tom Jones to Brian McKnight to Andrea Bocelli. However, he made his most indelible mark in the realm of jazz-rock-fusion. Over a four-decade career, he built a resume that included recording and touring work with violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, drummer BillyCobham, vibraphonist Mike Mainieri and saxophonist Walter Beasley. He was also a frequent
collaborator with drummer Steve Smith, a member of three of Smith’s bands, including his acclaimed fusion band Vital Information.

“Baron’s extreme versatility and seasoned professionalism made him my first call bass player
since 1998,” Smith said in a statement. “When I knew Baron was on the gig, I could relax and
knew he would take care of business…. Each night he would spontaneously create new bass
parts that were compositionally correct and funky as hell.

“His personality was dynamic, his sense of humor infectious, and everyone that knew him loved
him.”

Browne’s easy sense of humor was something of a calling card for the musician. “Always had
me cracking up,” said Boston-based vocalist Lydia Harrell. “He made wedding reception gigs so
much fun….I still to this day remember all of the quotes he would play within other songs and
the silliness he would bring.”

While his prowess kept him in high demand for touring projects, Browne also maintained a
lower-key local presence, working with a band called Night Shift on wedding gigs in the greater
Boston area.

When his death was made public, tributes to Browne poured in across social media. “We lost a
great musician and one of our best friends,” wrote Ponty on his Facebook page.
“The most underrated bassist in history,” wrote guitarist Dean Brown, a bandmate of Browne’s
with Billy Cobham. “A brilliant musician and a dear friend.”

Baron LeRonn Browne was born and raised in Brunswick, Georgia. His interest in music began
as a child, when at age seven he began learning to play his uncle’s drum kit. He also took piano
and guitar lessons, but by 13 had discovered that his real love was the bass guitar.

In 1978, Browne matriculated at Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music, where he spent
a year before beginning a full-time career as a professional musician with then-Boston-based
guitarists Bill Frisell, Mike Stern and future Tonight Show bandleader Kevin Eubanks. In 1982,
he made his first recording, Mudd Cake, as a member of trumpeter Tiger Okoshi’s band Tiger’s
Baku.

Then, in 1983, he was hired into Jean-Luc Ponty’s band. He toured the world with Ponty several
times, making five albums with the violinist (1985’s Fables, 1987’s The Gift of Time, 1989’s
Storytelling , 1996’s Live at Chene Park and 2015’s Better Late Than Never with Ponty and Yes
lead vocalist Jon Anderson). At the same time, he was working with the legendary drummer
Billy Cobham, with whom he recorded twice (1985’s Warning and 1986’s Powerplay).

In the 1990s, Browne entered perhaps his most diverse period, during which he toured with Tom
Jones, Brian McKnight and the R&B band Exposé as well as with Ponty and Beasley. He joined
the fusion ensemble Steps Ahead, a loose collective of “all-star” fusion players centered around
vibraphonist Mike Mainieri, in 1992. As the decade progressed, he also worked with another
vibraphonist, Gary Burton, in his touring band; and, beginning in 1998, with drummer Steve
Smith in his band Vital Information. Smith was so impressed with Browne’s abilities that he
would also employ the bassist in his acoustic ensembles Buddy’s Buddies and Jazz Legacy —
putting Browne into three very different musical contexts. He excelled in all three.

“Baron impacted the sound and direction of all of my groups and played on twelve of my
albums” Smith affirmed, adding that Browne was his favorite bass player. “Baron had a wideranging musical scope. He was deeply funky, adept at straight-ahead swing, R&B, rock and roll
and Latin music.”

Although he had a strong charisma to go with his formidable musical ability, Browne preferred
to work as a freelancer and a sideman, both on records and in touring bands. Offstage, Browne
was a very private person who preferred to spend his time between gigs quietly at home with his
wife of 20 years, saxophonist Gail McArthur-Browne, a teacher at Berklee College of Music in
Boston. An avid golfer, he and Gail regularly played with musical friends Ray Greene, vocalist
for the band Santana, and Cape Cod Jazz Festival director Bobby Talallah.

In addition to his wife, Browne is survived by his mother, Beverly Maddox, and her husband
James; his father, Donald Browne, and his wife Carolyn; a sister, Daun Brown and her husband
Landis Brown; half-brother, Brandon Browne and his wife Brittney; a nephew and three nieces.
On his wife’s side, Browne is survived by his sister-in-law, Lynn Brown, and her husband Gerry;
three nieces and a grandniece.

He is also survived by legions of colleagues, friends and admirers of his superlative musical
legacy.

In lieu of flowers, Browne’s family requests that memorial contributions be made in his name to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Jimmy Fund (P.O. Box 849168, Boston, MA 02284-9168), or to the Berklee College Emergency Fund (921 Boylston Street, Rom 500, Boston, MA 02215).


Click the links, below, to read "Drum Talk" articles written by Steve Smith:

Drummer Magazine, 2007 (PDF)
Modern Drummer (three parts)
Choosing the Right Equipment
The Art of Practice (an excerpt
)
Interview with Rhythm Magazine
Drums du jour: Dealing with Rental Drums
Vital Reading: My Favorite Music Books
Learning from Mentors
My Setup and Equipment: The Early Years
My Setup and Equipment: My Setup Today