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The Six Brown Brothers who recorded for Victor and Emerson between 1914 and 1920 evolved from a saxophone quartet in the 1906 edition of Ringling Brothers’ World’s Greatest Shows that was headed by the enterprising Canadian clarinetist Tom Brown (1881-1950) and included two of his brothers, probably Percy (1883-1918) and Vern (1887-1964). In 1908, the act became the Five Brown Brothers (recorded by U-S Everlasting and Columbia in 1911) and included two more brothers, Alec (1882-1978) and Fred (1890-1949). The sixth brother, William (1879-1945), joined the act around 1912, after its 1911 expansion into the Six Brown Brothers. Click here to order Several other musicians were part of the group at various times before its 1933 dissolution, most notably Billy Markwith (dates unknown), Harry Fink (1889-1951), and Tom Brown Jr. (b. 1912). Until 1914, while they worked in vaudeville and traveling minstrel shows, the Brothers were multi-instrumentalists, but in 1914 they dropped their trombones, baritones, cornets, bells, rattles, and marimba to specialize in the saxophone. Tom claimed that the group had initiated the saxophone craze that began around 1914 and culminated in the instrument’s omnipresence in American popular music of the 1920s and 1930s. Though acclaimed as saxophonists, the Browns owed much of their fame to the comic talent of Tom, who did blackface pantomime and wrangled many extramusical sounds from his alto, especially a kind of wordless speech that is documented in a 1927 Vitaphone short. The 1914-20 Victor connection was triggered by the Brothers’ appearance in Chin Chin (1914-1917), a Broadway musical that put five of the musicians into clown costumes, which became a much-copied hallmark of the group. (See the following photos; 1, 2, 3) Their next decade was spent mostly in musical comedy, until the failure of Black and White Revue of 1924 (1923-24), which sent the act back into vaudeville. After 1933, only Tom continued to work as a musician, though without much success.

The Six Brown Brothers’ emphasis on hot repertoire was another big factor in their rise to fame, but, despite the titles of some of their pieces (for example, “Lazy Jazz Waltz,” “Smiles and Chuckles (A Jazz Rag),” and “Sweet Jazz o’ Mine”), their released discs contain very little that approximates jazz, except for Tom’s variation on the melody of “That Moaning Saxophone Rag,” his bluesy reading of one of the strains of “Down Home Rag,” and some playful duets with brother Fred on various tunes (foreshadowing the Clyde Doerr-Bert Ralton duets on the records of Art Hickman’s Orchestra in 1919-20). Their main influence on jazz seems to have been indirect, via the popularizing of the saxophone. They were primarily theatrical entertainers, on a different track from the cabaret and dance bands whose music coalesced into the jazz of the 1910s and 1920s.

Click here to order The story of the Six Brown Brothers can be found in Bruce Vermazen’s That Moaning Saxophone: The Six Brown Brothers and the Dawning of a Musical Craze (Oxford University Press, 2004), and a selection of their recordings (including the Vitaphone soundtrack mentioned above) has been restored and issued on Six Brown Brothers: Those Moaning Saxophones (Archeophone CD 6002), with extensive notes by Vermazen.

Title Recording Date Recording Location Company
Alexandria
From the Musical Production "Aphrodite"

(Anselm Goetzl)
3-1920 New York, New York Emerson
10186
American Patrol
(F.W. Meacham)
6-26-1911 New York, New York Columbia
A1041
American Patrol
(F.W. Meacham)
1911 New York, New York U.S. Everlasting
1321
Bullfrog And The Coon - Medley
(Felix Feist / Joseph S. Nathan)
1911 New York, New York U.S. Everlasting
408
Bull Frog Blues
(In Foxtrot Time)

(Gus Shrigley / Tom Brown)
6-20-1916 Camden, New Jersey Victor
18097-B
Carolina Sunshine
(Walter Hirsch / Erwin R. Schmidt)
7-1919 New York, New York Emerson
1055
Chasing The Chickens
(Raymond Walker / Abe Olman)
6-7-1918 New York, New York Victor
18476-B
Chicken Reel Comedy Medley - "Poet and Peasant" - "Chicken Reel" - "Virginia Lee" - "Bull Frog And The Coon"
(Franz von Suppé / Joseph Daly / Joseph Nathan)
2-15-1915 New York, New York Victor
17799-A
Chicken Walk
(Tom Brown / F. Henri Klickmann)
6-20-1916 Camden, New Jersey Victor
18189-A
Chin Chin
(Introducing "Pretty Baby" and "Chin Chin Open Your Heart And Let Me In")

(Egbert Van Alstyne / Seymour Brown)
6-20-1916 Camden, New Jersey Victor
18149-A
Comedy Tom
(Gus King)
5-8-1917 Camden, New Jersey Victor
18385-B
Down Home Rag
(Wilbur C.S. Sweatman)
7-8-1915 New York, New York Victor
17834-A
Egyptland
(James W. Casey)
5-13-1919 New York, New York Victor
18562-B
HMV
18562-B
Fatima
(Curtis / Van Alstyne)
5-1920 New York, New York Emerson
10205
For Me And My Gal - Medley
("From Here To Shanghai" and "For Me And My Gal")

(George W. Meyer / Irving Berlin)
5-10-1917 Camden, New Jersey Victor
18310-A
Ghost Of The Saxophone
(F. Henri Klickmann)
5-8-1917 Camden, New Jersey Victor
18309-B
HMV
18309-B
If A Wish Could Make It So
Introducing "Tickle Me"

(From the Musical Comedy "Tickle Me")

(Herbert Stothart)
11-22-1920 New York, New York Victor
18714-B
I'll Say She Does
(Introducing Smiles - I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles)

(Buddy DeSylva / Gus Kahn / Al Jolson / Lee S. Roberts / Kenbrovin / Kellett)
7-1919 New York, New York Emerson
1056
Independentia And Billboard Medley March 1911 New York, New York U.S. Everlasting
409
Independentia Medley March
Including "Under The Double Eagle" - "Bill Board March"
6-25-1915 New York, New York Victor
17822-B
Jazz Band Blues
(James White)
4-1920 New York, New York Emerson
10195
La Paloma
(Yradier)
11-20-1914 New York, New York Victor
17822-A
Lazy Jazz Waltz
(Sweet Hawaiian Moonlight)

(F. Henri Klickmann)
3-1920 New York, New York Emerson
10186
Missouri Blues
(Harry Brown)
7-1919 New York, New York Emerson
1056
My Fox Trot Girl
(Paul Biese / F. Henri Klickmann)
5-17-1917 New York, New York Victor
18310-B
Passion Dance - La Danza Apasionada
(Clarence M. Jones)
6-23-1916 New York, New York Victor
18217-B
Peter Gink
(George L. Cobb)
5-13-1919 New York, New York Victor
18562-A
HMV
18562-A
Peter Gink
(George L. Cobb)
7-1919 New York, New York Emerson
1055
Pussyfoot March
(James "Slap" White)
6-19-1916 Camden, New Jersey Victor
18097-A
Rainbow Of My Dreams - Medley
(Introducing "Norse Maid")

(Freed / Wallace)
4-1920 New York, New York Emerson
10195
Rigoletto Quartet
(Giuseppe Verdi)
6-22-1916 Camden, New Jersey Victor
18217-A
Saxophone Sam
(Paul Biese / F. Henri Klickmann)
5-7-1917 Camden, New Jersey Victor
18309-A
Saxophone Sobs
(Ernie Erdman)
6-22-1916 Camden, New Jersey Victor
18140-A
Smiles And Chuckles (Jazz Rag)
(F. Henri Klickmann)
5-9-1917 Camden, New Jersey Victor
18385-A
Tambourines And Oranges
(F. Henri Klickmann)
6-22-1916 New York, New York Victor
18096
That Moaning Saxophone Rag
(Harry Cook / Tom Brown)
11-20-1914 New York, New York Victor
17677-B
The Bullfrog And The Coon - Medley "Chicken" - "Cubanola Glide", - "When The Moon Plays Peek-A-Boo" - "The Bullfrog And The Coon"
(Joseph S. Nathan / Felix Feist)
6-26-1911 New York, New York Columbia
A1041
The Concourse March
(G.E. Holmes)
7-1919 New York, New York Emerson
10106
The Darktown Strutter's Ball
(Shelton Brooks)
5-9-1917 Camden, New Jersey Victor
18376-A
Tip Top - Medley
"Wonderful Girl, Wonderful Boy" - "The Girl I Never Met"

(from the Musical Comedy "Tip Top")

(Ivan Caryl)
11-22-1920 New York, New York Victor
18714-A
Tramp, Tramp, Tramp (Tom's Solo) 1911 New York, New York U.S. Everlasting
407
12th Street Rag
(Euday Bowman)
5-1920 New York, New York Emerson
10205
Walkin' The Dog
(Shelton Brooks / Guy Shigley)
6-22-1916 New York, New York Victor
18140-B
When Aunt Dinah's Daughter Bangs On The Piano
(James "Slap" White)
6-4-1918 Camden, New Jersey Victor
18476-A
Artist Instrument
Matthew Amaturo Saxophone
Alec Brown Baritone Saxophone
Fred Brown Alto Saxophone
Percy Brown Alto Saxophone
Tom Brown Alto Saxophone, Leader
Vern Brown Bass Saxophone
William Brown Tenor Saxophone
Harry Fink Tenor Saxopnone, Baritone Saxophone
Billy Markwith Alto Saxophone
That Moaning Saxophone: The Six Brown Brothers and the Dawning of a Musical Craze, by Bruce Vermazen, Oxford University Press, 2004