|LMR This was, I believe, the first time you were asked to bring your band, how did that come about?
Brownman Mainly because Cruzao got some strong Cuban airplay from my time there in 2002... by the time 2004 rolled around, the group was known in the Cuban latin-jazz community and I had the endorsement of the Irakere members... which is musical currency for validation. So Chucho asked us to come down and represent Canada for 2004. An honour.
LMR How was it being there as a band leader rather than as a guest musician?
Brownman Very different... much larger headaches... and much larger pressures. I had to find guys to play the tunes who could read, who would kill the music, who understood the whole concept of "chordless" latin-jazz and then rehearse them. And in Cuba it's really hard to get things done... organization isn't one of their fortes, but it's made up for by unbelievable passion and spirit when they play. I was still a guest musician with other bands in addition to leading Cruzao down there, so the pressures were doubled. Was a pretty harrowing time rehearsing by day, running from venue to venue at night and always wondering when the next problem would arise. But in the end, the magic of playing that music at that level in the birthplace of clave made it all worth it.
LMR How were the audiences?
Brownman They were small but attentive... there's so much going on at the festival a million bands to see a million performers to catch... everyone can't be everywhere at once. I, personally, much prefer small crowds with their eyes glued to the band... it's more intimate and personal... crowd response is often better than when it's a swaying mob who are there as much for the ambience of being part of a crowd of thousands as they are for the band.
LMR Do you go and play in Havana at other times?
Brownman I wish! It's so busy back here in Canada that it's hard to get away. I lead five groups of my own, co-lead 3 others, and am the musical director for 3 more. It's a lot to juggle but I feel very very lucky to be able to be artistic every day and have venues and groups who want my horn associated with them.
LMR You told me Basilio Marques is a mentor to you, how did that come about? What has it meant to you?
Brownman Mainly from my time in Cuba in the past he's always been so kind and giving... it's just in his nature. I think I'm just one of many who feel that way about Basilio. He has helped to shape the new sound of lead trumpet players in Cuba Basilio and Alexander Abreau are like two Cuban gods on trumpet. To stand between them at the closing ceremonies when I played with Irakere was an incredible experience. They both drip with Cuban lineage and I felt so grateful to stand between them and try and soak some of it up.