Growing up in New York, Jason Robert Brown later spent two years studying at Rochester's Eastman School Of Music and also attended summer camp at the French Woods Festival of the Performing Arts. Back home in New York in the early 90s he played piano in clubs, worked as an arranger and conductor as well as being a rehearsal pianist for Kiss Of The Spider Woman in 1993. Introduced to theatrical producer/director Hal Prince's daughter Daisy the pair began collaborating and with her directing, Brown's first show Songs For A New World premiered at the WPA Theatre off-Broadway in 1995. Built around a series of songs rather than a particular story the show featured music that drew influence from gospel, jazz and contemporary pop and introduced the song 'Stars And The Moon' which would become a future cabaret staple. Brown worked on another off-Broadway production - William Finn's A New Brain before his next project found Hal Prince inviting him to compose the music and lyrics to the 1998 show Parade which was based on a libretto by Alfred Uhry. Directed by Hal Prince the musical had a relatively short run at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre on Broadway although it was generally critically acclaimed and garnered Tony Awards for both Brown and Uhry (for Best Original Score and Best Book of a Musical) as well as Drama Desk Awards (for Outstanding Music and Outstanding Book of a Musical). The show went on to tour the USA and enjoyed a limited run at London's Donmar Warehouse while RCA Victor released the original Broadway cast album Parade in 1999.
Brown reunited with Daisy Prince for the one act, two person musical The Last Five Years, the story of a relationship between a male writer and a female actor for which he wrote the book, lyrics and music. The show initially played in Chicago at the Northlight Theatre in 2001 before enjoying an off-Broadway run at the Minetta Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village the following year. Like much of Brown's work the musical is an engaging blend of different styles of music including pop, jazz, classical, rock, folk and Latin, as superbly demonstrated on the original cast recording The Last Five Years (2002). While the show was not a commercial success it rewarded him with two Drama Desk Awards for Best Music and Best Lyrics. Previously (in 1994) Brown had worked as an orchestrator on Yoko Ono's off-Broadway musical New York Rock and was invited in 2003 by a colleague from that show (Phillip Oesterman) to help out on the new production Urban Cowboy. Oesterman was one of the librettists on the musical and Brown composed five songs (lyrics and music) as well as orchestrating, arranging, conducting, playing keyboards and singing for the show. The remaining original tunes were composed by Jeff Blumenkrantz and complimented a number of existing country songs by writers including Clint Black, Ronnie Dunn, Jerry Chesnut and Charlie Daniels.
In 2005 Brown released a solo album Wearing Someone Else's Clothes a record that contained a collection of old and new songs that were previously unreleased and featured the highlights 'Getting Out' and 'Someone Else's Clothes'. His next two projects were hugely influenced by his Jewish faith; December 2005 saw the debut performance of his short Chanukah Suite by the Los Angeles Master Chorale at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown L.A. while two years later his musical 13 (based on the book by Dan Elish and Robert Horn), the story of a boy dealing with his approaching Bar Mitzvah and the break-up of his parent's marriage, premiered in Los Angeles before beginning a three month run on Broadway in 2008. Brown has formed successful working relationships with many directors, writers and musicians, often collaborating with them on more than one project, such as Daisy Prince and the late Phillip Oesterman. Another playwright who he has collaborated with more than once is Marsha Norman, they first worked together in 2011 on E.B. White's children's novel The Trumpet Of The Swan which she adapted for the stage with Brown composing and conducting and an all-star cast that included John Lithgow, Kathy Bates, Martin Short and Mandy Moore. The pair reunited in 2013 on the adaptation of The Bridges Of Madison County with Norman writing the book and Brown composing the music and lyrics. The musical opened on Broadway in 2014, ran for one hundred and thirty-seven performances and garnered him Tony Awards for Best Original Score and Best Orchestration.
As well as his work for the theatre Brown regularly gigs both solo and with The Caucasian Rhythm Kings, a trio which features him on piano and vocals, Gary Sieger on guitar and Randy Landau on bass. While Jason Robert Brown has yet to enjoy a long running Broadway success he has already established himself as a popular and in-demand composer whose work comfortably blends traditional and contemporary musical styles to great effect.
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