Rick Braun
Rises to the challenge and finds new things to do, including wowing fans at the 20th Annual Berks Jazz Fest this month

By Preston Turegano

Last summer, when Rick Braun’s latest CD, All It Takes, was released, the smooth jazz trumpeter didn’t know that by early 2010 he would be doing all it takes––and more––to keep his name before the public.
    
“Even though I had a great year last year and the year before, it’s getting harder and harder to find (concert) promoters willing to take a risk in this challenging environment,” Braun said during a telephone interview on a cold rainy day that motivated him to build a cozy fire in his Los Angeles-area home.
    
“There’s a lot of responsibility on all of us (musicians) to keep going and to find new things to do. I have a lot of things I’m working on––a lot of irons in the fire.”
    
One of those irons is a return to what the now-54-year-old Braun did during his salad days––singing.
    
“That has come about as a result of doing Christmas shows with Peter White and Dave Koz. So many people have come up to me and have said I really should do this. I was a singer in Japan way back in the ’80s, trying to be Rick Springfield, but it didn’t work out well even though I made a vocal record.”
    
Braun said his renewed interest in singing is something he can do at performing arts centers or with symphony orchestras. On Feb. 19, he joined long-time business partner and saxophonist Richard Elliot for a performance in the 1,500-seat concert hall at the California Centers for the Arts, Escondido. That event raised money for the L. .R Green Education Foundation that supports the public elementary school in Escondido.
    
“I enjoy singing, especially the standards,” Braun said. “I guess I was born in the wrong era. I’m kind of a crooner at heart.”
    
Although Braun is tweaking his act by vocalizing, he still is making music with his trumpet and practicing as much as possible at home.
    
“That (practicing) is not as easy as it sounds,” he said. “I’ve got two children (Emma, 10, and Kyle, 8) who have their school home work to do, and other things they need help with. It’s an interesting place to be in at this point in my career, and it’s not a place that’s uncommon for so many of us, given what’s going on with the economy. I’m having to look at what else I have to offer and what else I can do, other than starting a whole new career, that is a part of who I am. I’m having to keep the wheels on the wagon, so to speak.”
    
Braun said his wife, Christiane, who is an interior decorator, is doing just as much to help, especially when Braun is on the road touring, which is frequent.
   
He said touring is now the best way for musicians to sell their CDs these days in the wake of the closure of many brick-and-mortar record stores.
   
 “One of the things keeping me out there and selling any CDs at all is the fact that I am playing shows,” Braun said “These days CD sales are pretty much driven by live performances. If people get excited about an artist they’ve seen live, recordings sell during the performance.”
    
Braun does not sell his CDs via his website––as some artists do––because his current label, Artistry Music, distributes his recordings through www.Amazon.com and www.iTunes.com. Approximately five years ago, Braun and Elliot co-founded ARTizen Music Group, which they recently sold to Mack Avenue Records Inc. Mack renamed the ARTizen label Artistry Music. As for All It Takes, it debuted and peaked at No. 2 on Billboard’s Top Contemporary Jazz Albums chart.
    
Live performances are also where many music lovers are hearing tunes for the first time, Braun said.
    
“Radio unfortunately has gone the corporate route,” he said. “It’s all homogenous and it doesn’t have the impact it used to have. I get up on stage and play some of my work that’s been on top of the charts for a long time and most people still don’t know the song. Now, fans are getting to know songs from hearing them live; not from hearing them on the radio.”
    
Braun also credits jazz cruises with creating a viable and successful forum for live performance.
    
As for Braun’s current touring, he and Elliot performed in London Feb. 23-27. In April, they perform in Cape Town, South Africa, where concertgoers routinely sing along with songs they know.
   
This month, Braun returns to Reading, Pennsylvania, for the 20th Annual VF Outlet Berks Jazz Fest, where he’ll be performing on March 25 and 26. Braun said he has appeared at Berks a dozen times during the festival’s lifetime. The event is just a few miles southwest of Allentown, where Braun was born and raised.
    
“Berks is like going home,” he said. “The hometown folks come out to see me. The festival is a great success story, particularly in the face of difficult times. It’s a positive statement on the community and what (festival general manager) John Ernesto and Connie Leinbach (executive director of the Berks Arts Council) and so many volunteers do there.”
    
Growing up in Allentown, Braun listened to such groups as Foghat and Led Zeppelin. His father worked in a steel mill during the day and sold insurance at night. His mother loved listening to popular music on radio, and also to jazz artists like Al Hirt, Paul Butterfield and Clyde McCoy.
    
Braun picked up a trumpet when he was 8 after his older brother, Ronnie, left a trumpet in a closet at home. After high school, Braun studied at the Eastman School of Music for three years before he got a record deal. In 1977, he moved to California where he played in the band Auracle for a few years before its members each went their own way. Undaunted, Braun wrote songs, including “Here With Me” for REO Speedwagon in 1988, and later toured as a sideman with Tina Turner, Natalie Cole, Tom Petty and War. Braun’s first solo trumpet CD, Intimate Secrets, appeared in 1993.
    
Braun’s oldest brother, Romy, passed away in 2006 after spending years in steady decline from Alzheimer’s disease. This is why Rick Braun supports the care of Alzheimer’s patients and has contributed his time to the Friends of Adult Day Services in Jacksonville, Florida.**
    
**This complete story can be found in the March issue of Smooth Jazz News. Pick up your free copy at our radio station affiliates (see radio station page for listings), various concerts, festivals and select Southern California outlets. Or you can subscribe and receive 11 issues of Smooth Jazz News per year, mailed monthly (except January), for $35. Click here to subscribe online today.
    
For more information on Braun, visit www.rickbraun.com.