Brian Brown

Legendary Melbourne Jazz Improviser



Brian Brown

Brian Brown was a leading voice in Australian modern jazz from the late 1950s when he formed the first Brian Brown Quintet, described in the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz program (1994) as ‘the definitive Australian hard bop band’. From then, in a continuous period, he led 12 ensembles, each with its own distinctive sound.

The list of musicians who performed with Brian include Don Burrows, Keith Hounslow, Frank Smith, Roger Frampton and Judy Jacques, pianists David Martin, Mike Nock, Tony Gould, Bob Sedergreen, Serge Ermoll, Sue Johnson and Ted Nettlebeck, bassists Barry Buckley, David Tolley, Geoff Kluke, Scott Dunbabin, Jeremy Alsop and Ben Robertson and drummer/percussionists Stewart Speer, David Jones, Ted Vining, Phil Treloar, Michael Jordan, Alex Pertout and Dur-é Dara.

Brian’s instruments were alto and concert flutes, panpipes, soprano and tenor saxophones, the Yamaha WX5 Wind Instrument and synthesisers. His unique sound included three leather bowhorns, made for him by the late Australian leather sculptor, Garry Greenwood. He performed internationally on nine tours, the first in 1978 when the Brian Brown Quartet became the first Australian ensemble invited to play at the Scandinavian Jazz Festivals, alongside Ornette Coleman, Max Roach and Freddie Hubberd.

Contribution to education

A major achievement was Brian’s establishment of Improvisation Studies at the Victorian College of the Arts in 1980, a course unique in Australia with its focus on students developing an individual voice. From 1980 to 1998 he directed each year level’s weekly Workshop class, involving some 600 students in small group performance. Brian also mentored and/or individually taught students who are now leading performers both in Australia and internationally, including several winners of the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz National Jazz Awards.


Brian’s compositional output consisted of 215 notated and catalogued scores, ranging from solo instrumental works and pieces for choir to music for small groups and large ensembles including full string and brass sections and multiple percussion.


Between 1957 and 1998 Brian recorded 12 LPs and CDs plus a video of his opera Winged Messenger, commissioned by the Montsalvat (Eltham) Arts Trust. After his retirement from the VCA in 1998 he produced 67 CDs, including 27 solo improvisations, 12 duos with Scott Dunbabin (bass) or Ros McMillan (keyboards) and 11 with his last ensemble, the Brian Brown Trio. Another 17 CDs were concert performances (1960 – 1990), including Moomba 77, featuring Dizzy Gillespie with an expanded Brian Brown Quintet plus Don Burrows (flute), Keith Hounslow (flugelhorn) and brass, string and percussion sections.

Awards, Honours and Grants

  • Order of Australia (OAM), 1993, for services to the performing arts as a composer, performer and educator. Patron, Montsalvat International Jazz Festival, 1996.
  • Inaugural inductee, Montsalvat Arts Foundation Roll of Honour, 1987.
  • Victorian Ministry for the Arts grants, 1975, 1976.
  • Australia Council grants, 1974, 1977, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1990, 1991.
  • Graeme Bell Hall of Fame Award, 2012 – ‘The Bells
  • Australian Music Centre, Represented Artist.

''He was an amazing man, a very open-minded individual who had amazing ideas about contributing to music by working in your own original voice,''

Alex Pertout   noted Jazz percussionist

''enormously influential in setting jazz in Melbourne on its distinctive course''

Richard Letts

"Brian had been a musical inspiration to myself and countless other Melbourne musicians, including his long tenure as Head of Improvisational Studies at the V.C.A"

Martin Jackson   Melbourne Jazz Co-op