about jrb news weblog theatre music schedule contact ]
June 11, 2012
It's time once again for the JRB Summer Karaoke Competition! Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines!

I did this once before, back in 2008, and to my shock and amazement, I got over 200 entries from all around the world. There were four winners in that contest, all outstanding singers, and they came to New York City to sing with me at Birdland on October 13, 2008. I've kept in touch with all of those winners (and several other contestants as well) and it's been a real thrill for me to see how their lives, careers and voices have progressed in these past four years. (Check 'em out! Natalie Weiss and Jonathan Reid Gealt and Natalie Hawkins and Jonathan Shew!)

And now, to celebrate my having reached 20,000 followers on Twitter, it's time to do it again!

There are FIVE STEPS to entering this year's competition:

STEP ONE: Go to SoundCloud.com and sign up for an account, if you don't already have one. All of this year's entries have to be on SoundCloud to be eligible. A starter account (which is all you'll need for this) is totally free. Once you're all set up, go to GROUPS, search for "JRB Karaoke" and join that group! (SoundCloud is a really cool platform and I suspect you'll enjoy playing around with it.)

STEP TWO: Choose and download the accompaniment track of your choice from the new Jason Robert Brown Plays Jason Robert Brown collection. You have to use one of those accompaniments to be eligible! You can download the individual tracks from iTunes (here's the link for the men's edition and the women's edition), Amazon (here's the men's edition and here's the women's edition) or of course you can just use the CD that's included when you purchase the book. If the song you want isn't in your key, pick a different song; you've got 22 to choose from!

STEP THREE: Record your amazing vocal with the accompaniment track you chose. You should try to make it sound as good as you can, but don't freak out if you don't have fancy microphones or state-of-the-art music editing software – you should be able to do it with your phone if that's all you've got. (Obviously, if the sound is too distorted or the vocal isn't audible, you should keep trying until you get a recording that you feel lets your voice be heard.)

STEP FOUR: Upload your track to SoundCloud, and SHARE IT with the JRB Karaoke group! And you MUST tag your track with JRBKARAOKE or I won't be able to find it or catalogue it!

and finally:

STEP THE LAST: Tweet a message to me with the following information in exactly this order:
Your name
Your current state, province or (if outside the US) country
The name of the song you chose (You can abbreviate as necessary)
The link to your song (You may have to shrink this URL)

So a sample tweet might look like this:
@mrjasonrbrown Julia Murney, NY Stars and the Moon http://soundcloud.com/jasonrbrown/stars-and-the-moon-julia #jrbkaraoke

And that's all you have to do!

ALL ENTRIES MUST BE SUBMITTED BY JULY 1, 2012! (And please, only one submission per person. Do one thing and do it well.)

After we've received your tweet, I and a panel of highly-qualified judges will listen to your entries, and we will choose the winner or winners, and we may ask for your help along the way in choosing the best folks.

What will the winner or winners receive? The winner(s) will be invited to come sing with me at a concert either in New York, London, Los Angeles or their own hometown! And while I can't guarantee it, it's very possible that the winner will sing a song on my new album, due this fall!

I've tried not to make this announcement too long because I want you all to get started singing. There will be lots of questions, I'm sure, and we'll figure it out as we go along; leave any questions or thoughts in the comments section below. I'm so excited to hear what you all come up with! Have at it, fantastic singers! And remember to tag your tracks with JRBKARAOKE and tweet me when you're all ready!

My first concert at the Red Mountain Theatre Company was back in 2006 (when they had a different name), and I've been back almost every year since then, always amazed at the incredible talent of the kids there and the warmth and enthusiasm of the crowds. I didn't expect a small city in the South to be so welcoming of new musical theater, but it's been a privilege to return to Birmingham every time.

This time, I not only got to perform with the thrillingly talented teens of the Red Mountain Performing Ensemble, but I had a rare and moving reunion with Parade's original Jim Conley, the soulful, sensitive and sensational Rufus Bonds Jr., who happened to be teaching at RMTC this weekend. A great artist, a fantastic singer, and a kind, generous man.

(The first act of the show was comprised of RMTC's fantastic teaching staff singing their butts off, then I came out for the second act to an already very well-lubricated and delightfully rowdy crowd.)

All Things In Time
I Could Be In Love With Someone Like You
The Old Red Hills of Home
That's What He Said
from Parade (Rufus Bonds Jr.)
When You Say Vegas
Caravan of Angels
A Little More Homework
(Red Mountain Theatre Co. Performing Ensemble)
Brand New You (Red Mountain Theatre Co. Performing Ensemble)
Someone to Fall Back On

Thanks so much for Keith Cromwell and the whole gang at Red Mountain for a great night, and for taking such good care of me and my music over the years. Looking forward to the next one!

May 24, 2012
As Songs for a New World evolved over the course of my first five years in New York City, I was absorbing a lot of different music in that way that is really only possible when you live by yourself and don't have to spend your money on anything other than buying CDs. (I realize the whole notion of "buying CDs" now seems quaint, but this was in the early 1990's and we actually had to go to music stores and give money to people if we wanted to have a copy of a song we could listen to whenever we wanted.) "The Steam Train" is sort of an unholy mixture of Bruce Hornsby, the Manhattan Transfer, and what was then called "new jack swing." I was never going to convince anyone that I was Teddy Riley, but I was willing to try.

I don't know why I wanted to write a song about a basketball player in the projects. Hoop Dreams wasn't even out yet, so that wasn't the inspiration – and that movie is of course authentic and authoritative in ways that "The Steam Train" doesn't even approach. The whole song seems ersatz to me, and it did even then, but I thought the music was cool and I hoped that perhaps having an actual black person sing the song might give it some credibility that my lame-ass phony-baloney "Nike and Adidas" jokes wouldn't otherwise attain.

This whole line of thinking is made ridiculous by the fact that I already had my cast in place for the show, and I knew that my tough basketball player from the projects was going to be played by ...
... Billy Porter.

Billy is one of the greatest singers in the world; I say that with no hyperbole intended. From the first time I heard him (when he came into Don't Tell Mama's on a night I was working the piano bar), I knew that he was a rare and magnificent creature, a phenomenal musical imagination couple with an extraordinary instrument. And he is a formidable actor as well, intensely emotional and committed and funny and just generally wonderful. What's he is not, however, is a basketball player from the projects. The staging originally included some rudimentary dribbling and shooting – that was cut very quickly. When we handed Billy the basketball in rehearsal, he held it like it was a wet schnauzer.

But, for all of its ludicrousness, I can't help loving it. Here's my fake "street" song about a sport I never watch sung by someone who looked as much like Michael Jordan as I look like Chris Hemsworth. And all of that notwithstanding, I still think it's awesome.

Billy never got to sing on the original cast album for the show, so this is a rare chance to hear him take on this material which was really shaped so specifically for his voice. There are two other fascinating things to listen to here: my 1993 keyboard programming (on a Korg T3, if you were wondering), which is both soulless AND inept; and none other than Tony Award-winning singer Debbie Gravitte singing backup with Andréa. I had originally hoped Debbie would record all of the songs for Woman 2 for the demo, but it took us all so long to get the harmonies right for the ensemble numbers that I never got the time to work on the solos. I still hope she'll sing them someday!

The Steam Train (demo) from Songs for a New World (1995)
Music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown
Billy Porter: lead vocal
JRB, Andréa Burns & Debbie (Shapiro) Gravitte: ensemble vocals
JRB: piano/programming
Recorded at Night Owl Studios, NY, NY, Spring 2003

While I never got to hear Debbie sing "Stars and the Moon," I have heard countless other wonderful women bring it to life, and I wanted to share one of those performances with you here.

Julia Murney is one of the most profoundly gifted musical theatre singers on Earth, and we've had the opportunity to collaborate on a number of projects, including a concert version of The Last Five Years that we did at UCLA in 2007. Julia was also featured in an orchestral concert of Songs for a New World that I conducted in Adelaide, South Australia in 2003. (You can hear her epic rendition of "The Flagmaker" from that concert here.) Here is her gorgeous performance of what I like to call "a medley of my greatest hit."

Stars and the Moon (live) from Songs for a New World (1995)
Music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown
Julia Murney: vocal
The Adelaide Art Orchestra (JRB, conductor)
Roger Butterley: acoustic guitar
Randy Landau: acoustic bass
Georgia Stitt: piano
Recorded by some crazed showtune queen with a crappy tape recorder, Adelaide Festival Hall, Adelaide, South Australia, 6/16/03

I have had the privilege of working with some amazing singers, y'all! Grateful am I. Enjoy.

JRB IN "NEW YORK" MAGAZINE: "How Can Musical Theater Be Saved?"
I was interviewed for Scott Brown's feature in this week's New York magazine. My interview was cut and pasted to the point where I'm not certain it makes any sense, but heck, I'm adorable. And the other folk in the slideshow (which can be seen here) say some very smart things indeed.
April 30, 2012
My editor at Hal Leonard, the estimable Rick Walters, called me in 2010 with the idea that we should do a book-and-CD folio of me playing accompaniments to my own songs, with a male and female edition. I thought it was a fantastic idea, and now it's finally out in the world!

Here's the great news: If you've already got the sheet music, you can purchase the tracks (individually or collectively) on iTunes. And if you don't have the sheet music, you can get any individual song on SheetMusicDirect.com, or you can order the book-and-CD package from Amazon or at your local sheet music retailer!

I'll put links for all the songs at the bottom of this blog, but first, here's an excerpt from my introduction to the book:

My favorite musical theater composers have all been formidable pianists: Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin, Stephen Sondheim, Frank Loesser, Cy Coleman. When I was supposed to be learning Bach and Mozart for my piano lessons, I was instead spending countless hours playing through West Side Story and Sunday in the Park with George, relishing the challenge of reproducing the sounds I heard on the original cast albums and movie soundtracks. Meanwhile, I was writing songs inspired by my pop heroes: Billy Joel, Elton John, Carole King, Stevie Wonder – again, a group of pianists of great technical facility and truly individual style.

Over time, I developed a very specific personality of my own as a pianist, something that doesn't sound quite like anyone else. Of course, anything that is unique is going to be difficult to reproduce, and so it is with the notated piano parts of my songs. I work very hard to ensure that the written accompaniments really represent what I might play on any given day, and so there is a lot of detail – to some pianists, a daunting level of detail indeed. For twenty years now, I've had singers tell me that they can't find pianists who can play my songs "right." It's hard enough singing my material properly under the best of circumstances, but when the accompaniment isn't correct – when the singer doesn't feel supported by the pianist – it can make some of my stuff all but impossible to learn.

Hence these two volumes, which consist of eleven songs each for male and female voices (based on the gender for which they were originally written). The intention wasn't to provide performance tracks – I firmly believe that my songs, like all the best musical theatre songs, depend on a give-and-take between singer and accompanist that can only be achieved live. Nor was the intention to document some "definitive" version of these accompaniments; I'm not sure I believe in such a thing. Simply put, these recordings are just one additional tool to help pianists and singers better understand and implement my intentions and style, to be used in conjunction with the published sheet music and the cast albums and solo recordings on which those songs have been featured.

The best versions of any of my songs are the ones where the musicians (singers included) are deeply engaged with the emotions and the passions hiding underneath and around the written rhythms and pitches and lyrics. It is my hope that the recordings collected here help singers and pianists alike to bring these songs to life in their own way. Enjoy!

Special thanks to Rick Walters and Joel Boyd at Hal Leonard, as well as Andy Waterman, who engineered these recordings at his beautiful studio in Chatsworth, CA. It was a real blast getting to play these songs, and I hope you'll love singing along with them!

To buy the full collections from Amazon.com, here are the links:
Jason Robert Brown Plays Jason Robert Brown: Men's Edition with CD
Jason Robert Brown Plays Jason Robert Brown: Women's Edition with CD

And here's a list of the individual songs, with links to iTunes and SheetMusicDirect.com:

Women's Edition:
1. I'm Not Afraid Of Anything iTunes|| SheetMusicDirect.com
2. Stars and the Moon iTunes|| SheetMusicDirect.com
3. Christmas Lullaby iTunes|| SheetMusicDirect.com
4. Still Hurting iTunes|| SheetMusicDirect.com
5. A Summer in Ohio iTunes|| SheetMusicDirect.com
6. I Can Do Better Than That iTunes|| SheetMusicDirect.com
7. Goodbye Until Tomorrow iTunes|| SheetMusicDirect.com
8. You Don't Know This Man iTunes|| SheetMusicDirect.com
9. And I Will Follow iTunes|| SheetMusicDirect.com
10. Mr. Hopalong Heartbreak iTunes|| SheetMusicDirect.com
11. What It Means To Be A Friend iTunes|| SheetMusicDirect.com

Men's Edition:
1. She Cries iTunes|| SheetMusicDirect.com
2. King of the World iTunes|| SheetMusicDirect.com
3. The Old Red Hills of Home iTunes|| SheetMusicDirect.com
4. This Is Not Over Yet iTunes|| SheetMusicDirect.com
5. Shiksa Goddess iTunes|| SheetMusicDirect.com
6. Moving Too Fast iTunes|| SheetMusicDirect.com
7. If I Didn't Believe In You iTunes|| SheetMusicDirect.com
8. Being A Geek iTunes|| SheetMusicDirect.com
9. I Could Be In Love With Someone Like You iTunes|| SheetMusicDirect.com
10. Nothing In Common iTunes|| SheetMusicDirect.com
11. Someone To Fall Back On iTunes|| SheetMusicDirect.com