Symbiosis, with Jeff Coffin, was released back in February 2021 with Ear Up Records. Jeff Coffin has always been one of my saxophone heroes. This was one of those dreams come true moments where I was saying to myself, “I can’t believe that I’m doing this.” I couldn’t believe that he wanted to play with me. I still wonder about that!
We got to know each other at music trade shows and jazz conferences and things like that. I knew who he was through Bela Fleck and the Flecktones and the Dave Matthews Band. He had seen some of my music videos, and he liked what I was doing, which I was amazed at. We kept bumping into each other. Eventually, I told him, “Hey, I have a couple of songs that I wrote for two sax players. Could I come to Nashville and pay you to record with me?” I went down there, and he had some friends at a recording studio, and we made three videos. The most popular one by far is called “The Jackalope”. That one is of us improvising, and the other two are songs that I wrote. It was super fun, and we got a great reaction.
Years later, I was doing my Fifty Fifty tour, where I played a gig in all fifty states. My Kentucky stop was also with Jeff Coffin. We were both guest artists at the University of Kentucky. It was there that Jeff mentioned that I should come back to Nashville and that we should spend more time playing together. He wanted to write and record with me. That made me really nervous because I do so much stuff by myself. I’m so used to doing everything by myself, so I was pretty nervous about it. Back in November 2019, I drove to his house in Nashville. He has a studio in his attic above the garage, and we spent four days writing songs from scratch, and we had enough to do an album and put out some videos.
The album, Symbiosis, is totally acoustic-like my solo stuff with no electronics (except for one song where we do a little overdubbing, which we explain on the CD). It was all written and recorded in four days. I often take the role of the rhythm section person, but we switch back and forth. It was fun to force myself to write and think and play differently. After playing by myself so often, it’s easy to get stuck in my head. It’s easy to reach a wall creatively because you can only think of so many things. It takes getting with other musicians to bring out new stuff.
All Figured Out
I released another album last summer in the middle of the summer. It’s called All Figured Out – Derek Brown and the Holland Concert Jazz Orchestra, which is done very ironically. I had a connection with the director of Hope College and the Holland Concert Jazz Orchestra. I had been experimenting with writing music for big band that would complement my style. I realized it would be cool if I had songs that would give me a chance to do my beatbox stuff because the typical jazz big band opportunity wasn’t giving me the ability to put in all of my percussion techniques. I started writing music myself. Soon I had enough music for a whole album, and I got this band, Holland Concert Jazz Orchestra.
We did that in February 2020, and it’s probably my favorite album because I was able to do so much with all of these different instruments. I got the orchestra involved as well as student string quartet players. They also have a Brazilian drumming group, and I got them to play with us. We also pulled out an organ and an electric guitar.
When I’m doing my solo stuff, I’m not satisfied very easily, and I’m always trying to get a bigger and bigger sound with just solo sax. I love epic pop music, and I’m always trying to recreate that. I’m always trying to do that with a solo saxophone which is very hard. It was a lot of fun to have everything at my disposal to create music with. It was also really intimidating, but it was fun to see how far I could go with so many musicians. It was super fun.
I realized, yes, I need to preach to myself and keep things challenging to myself and keep things fun for myself. That often means breaking out of my comfort zone, which is playing solo saxophone. I realized that I need to play with other musicians and that playing with other musicians brings out new and challenging ways of having fun. It’s super hard but so worth it in the long run.
Now I’m thinking about what other combinations I can do. I’m thinking that maybe I could write some orchestra stuff. Could I do more with improvising and with totally improvised concerts. I’m now dreaming of other possibilities for the future.