Michael Brewin is a notable guitarist, composer, producer, author/writer, historian, and educator.
"The best jazz around:...The Michael Brewin Trio." - Seattle Post-Intelligencer
“Michael Brewin is an undiscovered Clapton" - New York Ace
"Fastest moving, leaving rock far behind...a new era.” - Village Voice
“Michael Brewin is a highly regarded jazz musician.” - Willamette Week
"You have a truly unique style on acoustic guitar -- you play with soul and feeling." - Carlos Santana [to Michael Brewin]
"Someday people will be learning your guitar solos.” - guitarist John McLaughlin [to Michael Brewin]
"You're the best guitarist I've ever heard." - guitarist/singer Dan Fogelberg [to Michael Brewin]
“You sure get around on that guitar!” - guitarist Larry Coryell [to Michael Brewin]
"The guitar is the most intimate, warm, and expressive of all the complete instruments (capable of melody, harmony, and rhythm). When the guitarist becomes the instrument through which the real music is played, then the heart dances, and there is joyous fulfillment – GUITARSOUL!"
About the artist: Michael Brewin is a notable musician, composer, author/writer, producer, historian, and educator. A guitar master who can play virtually every style of guitar music, over the years, he has also been professionally associated with some of the world's greatest musicians. Michael Brewin has worked with many jazz musicians, including jazz-blues master Mose Allison, as well as musicians from the bands of Miles Davis, Steely Dan, Diana Ross, Al DiMeola, Pink Martini, Wynton Marsalis, Harry Connick Jr., Diana Krall, Ella Fitzgerald, Les McCann, Airto Moreira, Tommy Flanagan, and Dave Brubeck. As a bandleader, he has performed at numerous venues, concerts, and festivals.
Artist biography: As a child, Michael Brewin studied classical violin in the U.S. with Elmer Setzer, a section leader in the Cleveland Orchestra (father of violinist Philip Setzer, Emerson Quartet). He first performed in public at age six, and his violin teacher called him "Little Paganini." He also sang in choirs, and earned a medal from the Royal School of Church Music. As a teenager, he taught himself guitar, composed songs, and sang and played guitar in groups. He earned a National Merit Scholar Commendation at St. Stephen's School in Rome, Italy.
At Connecticut's Wesleyan University, he studied ethnomusicology with Indian and African master musicians, and electronic music with John Cage and Alvin Lucier, while also performing his music regularly at New England colleges and coffeehouses. Like Brewin, fellow guitarist John McLaughlin also studied veena and Carnatic music at Wesleyan.
Then, Michael Brewin began performing his compositions in prominent Boston jazz and folk clubs. At one extended all-Gershwin show gig at the Jazz Workshop/Paul’s Mall, he sang jazz and played harmonica for several months backed by Jeff "Skunk" Baxter (lead guitarist of Steely Dan, and the Doobie Brothers) and a rhythm section. In fact, it was Brewin who gave Baxter his unique nickname (as a band prank intended to help give Baxter some notoriety and public attention).
While performing his own music in Boston, Brewin was offered a record contract by legendary guitarist Chet Atkins’ co-producer to move to Nashville and be produced by Atkins himself at the Hit Factory. However, Brewin declined, concerned that he would thereafter be labeled only as a country musician, thereby restricting his music.
Brewin moved to New York, where he played guitar in bands represented by the William Morris Agency, did recording sessions, and played lead guitar in a group produced by John Lennon (of the Beatles). He eventually left New York, and moved to California, where he immersed himself in progressive jazz improvisation, explored Latin fusion and world music.
In Santa Barbara, Brewin met guitarist Carlos Santana and was invited to visit his Marin County home. After Brewin jammed with Carlos at his recording studio, Carlos asked Michael if he would teach jazz guitar to Carlos' brother, Jorge. Brewin gave Jorge guitar lessons, teaching him jazz chords + inversions, and jazz scales/improvisation, and Jorge passed along some of this knowledge back to Carlos. [Jorge has since played lead guitar with Carlos on several Santana tours and albums.]
While in California, Brewin worked with outstanding jazz, fusion, and Latin musicians. One night, singer-guitarist Dan Fogelberg joined him onstage at Brewin’s regular gig. Fogelberg stated, "You're the best guitarist I've ever heard." Fogelberg thereupon referred Brewin to play lead guitar for Boz Scaggs’ hit band; however, Brewin never followed up by phoning Scaggs. After five years in California, he resettled in the beautiful (but wet) Pacific Northwest, where he has continued to live.
Over the years, Michael Brewin has worked with many jazz musicians, including jazz-blues master Mose Allison, as well as musicians from the bands of Miles Davis, Airto Moreira, Diana Ross, Al DiMeola, Pink Martini, Wynton Marsalis, Harry Connick Jr., Diana Krall, Ella Fitzgerald, Les McCann, Tommy Flanagan, and Dave Brubeck. As a bandleader, he has performed at numerous venues, concerts, and festivals (such as the Seattle Arena and the Bumbershoot Music Festival).
Brewin has also produced studio sessions, commercial recordings, and hundreds of concerts (e.g. Chick Corea, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Kronos Quartet, Eddie Wied's "Street Dancer" album, etc.) and he has provided consulting services to jazz festivals (e.g. Jazz on the Water, Newport) and universities. In recent years, he has produced soundtracks at his digital recording studio, SOULJAZZ. He has also recorded with rock musicians, including Heart's original lead guitarist Roger Fisher, and members of the band Quarterflash. His voice and guitar have also been featured in broadcast radio commercials and television themes, as well as television cable network shows.
In 2018, Michael Brewin's album of diverse compositions for guitar, "GUITARSOUL," was released.
The GUITARSOUL album project:
About the album, GUITARSOUL: GUITARSOUL showcases Michael Brewin’s virtuoso guitar playing on 11 tracks, including 9 original compositions. Playing acoustic, electric, and flamenco guitars, and backed on some tracks by bass, piano, synth, drums, percussion, and also singing on one track, the master of diverse musical styles takes the listener on a beautiful and entrancing, flowing journey of melodious passages. The lovely and varied compositions feature jazz, world music, classical, flamenco, folk, rock, and blues elements – painting a lush sonic landscape with inspired guitar playing. Seven of the album tracks feature some improvisation.
About the tracks: “Ocean of Bliss” is a world music meditation riding on the wave of a bass groove. “Lydian Waltz” is an impressionist jazz waltz with a unique and memorable melody based on the lydian mode (scale), and features guitar and piano solos. Vocal “Morning Song” is a jazzy, folksy, bluesy celebration. “Moresca” melds Spanish and English classical and folk elements. “BreathCatch” soars with riveting electric guitar and piano solos. The melodic “Sharing” evokes Celtic jigs. “Gitano” is a spirited flamenco piece with several sections. “Santi” is an ensemble number that features even and odd time signatures juxtaposed in sections of the head of the tune, and piano, guitar, and bass solos. “Flamenco Passion” is an inspired improvisation based around a recurring theme. The album closes with two classical guitar pieces, the uptempo “Lute Prelude” by J.S. Bach, and Franciso Tarrega’s charming “Caprice Arabe.” Brewin also plays electric bass on several tracks and synthesizer. The special guests include musicians from Pink Martini and Diana Ross' band.
Brewin also did post-graduate work in education, completed a graduate degree in history (and received the President's Award), and he has taught college classes (music and history), in addition to teaching jazz and classical guitar. He developed the first jazz studies and popular music history classes for the Portland State University music department. The jazz studies program is now a baccalaureate major. Besides teaching at three colleges, he has also served on non-profit, educational, cultural, and municipal boards.
As a writer, Brewin has numerous published articles (Oregonian, Bass World, etc.) and has been an editor for several publications (e.g. Jazzscene). His definitive jazz appreciation/history book, SOULJAZZ: The Heart of the Music, was endorsed by music faculty at various universities, including Stanford University and Portland State University, and by notable jazz musicians. SOULJAZZ: The Heart of the Music also features exclusive interviews with a number of the world’s greatest jazz musicians. Reputable, informed reviewers wrote: "Part jazz history, part jazz present...SOULJAZZ will enlighten you...” (Jazz Notes, KMHD-Jazz Radio); and "Michael Brewin presents a thorough exploration of jazz music through scores of interviews, explanations of different playing styles and a wealth of information to help a novice start a jazz collection or an enthusiast to complete one." (The Oregonian) The music columnist for The Hindu (India's national newspaper), liked SOULJAZZ so much (he wrote: "insightful remarks on improvisation that can be equally and eloquently true of Carnatic and Hindustani music") that he quoted extensively from the second chapter, "The Spirit of Improvisation," in his feature article ("Manodharma in Jazz").
Michael Brewin has been active in public service, too, beginning when he helped to found Earth Day (organizing and performing at Earth Day events), and later he served as an aide to Ron Wyden (U.S. Senator). After running some political campaigns, he was recruited by Oregon leaders as a nominee for the Oregon Senate. The editors of the largest metropolitan newspaper of the Pacific Northwest (The Oregonian) wrote: "Brewin has much to offer... he has a keen knowledge of how government works and scholarly notions of how the democratic process could work better." An Oregonian columnist, Jonathan Nicholas, wrote: “This is just about as close, I guess, as an Oregon legislative candidate might ever get to being God.” Brewin has been featured in the broadcast media, as well, appearing on evening news segments on topical issues by network television affiliates KGW (NBC), KATU (ABC), and by KOIN (CBS) news. He has also been profiled in biographical feature articles (and photos) by various newspapers and magazines.
Michael Brewin has also contributed to several inventions and acoustic related designs. Brewin provided acoustical knowledge and recommendations (r.e. sound absorption, dampening construction), for the purposes of mitigating noise in office environments, which was eventually implemented in variable modular office environments, first called the "action office" (Herman Miller Research) and later referred to as the "cubicle." These applied principles are now standard in countless offices. Brewin also provided the original details for constructing a sound-masking device, based on his research (using an analog synthesizer), after discovering that slightly amplified "white noise" (and "pink noise") within a certain frequency range can mask conversations and filter out some unwanted noise. Today, such sound-masking devices derived from Brewin's ideas are commonplace worldwide, and especially at sensitive government, corporate, and military facilities. Some digital clock-radios even have this "white noise" feature (for restless sleepers).
Brewin also collaborated with his friend, guitarist and inventor Seymour Duncan, in developing improved humbucker electric guitar pickups, regularly experimenting with pickups Seymour hand-made for Brewin's guitars (materials, magnets, pole pieces, wire, # windings, mounting, etc.), as they dialed in the tone, sounds, and good sustain Brewin wanted to get on his Les Paul (and other guitars) at his Jazz, Blues-Rock steady gig. Some of these Jazz, Blues, and Rock pickup prototypes evolved into stock models (e.g. the "JB" pickup), when Seymour started the Seymour Duncan company. The original Brewin-Duncan Jazz-Blues prototype pickup is on the Les Paul Custom guitar which Michael Brewin plays on the album, "GUITARSOUL." On the track, "BreathCatch," one can hear the sustain and tone Brewin was seeking.
More recently, Michael Brewin and Oregon guitar luthier Kerry Char collaborated in the creation of the Brewin flamenco model, a beautiful, resonant guitar with special features, built to Michael's exact specifications. This guitar project took over a year to complete. Brewin plays this flamenco guitar on sections of the GUITARSOUL album (e.g. "Flamenco Passion").
Excerpts from Michael Brewin's book 'SOULJAZZ: The Heart of the Music,' as quoted in the Music feature article in The Hindu, India's newspaper:
The book ‘Souljazz: The Heart of the Music’, by Michael Brewin, an American jazz guitarist, composer and scholar, contains the following insightful remarks on improvisation which can be equally and eloquently true of Carnatic and Hindustani music:
"Simple and memorable
While jazz musicians need a solid foundation of technique and musical theory in order to improvise successfully, they must also utilise intangible features which transcend the physical mechanics and mental physics of music...
Some of the most memorable improvisations in jazz history have been over simple progressions... Most listeners, too, find simpler forms more accessible than cerebral explorations... Simple or sparse arrangements often free musicians to use their entire consciousness to express themselves more purely and clearly, without focussing attention unduly on form...
The more complicated the arrangement... the more mental energy a musician will have to devote to the technical aspects of improvising. Therefore only highly accomplished virtuosos of improvisation are able to spontaneously fuse emotion and creativity in the course of soloing over difficult and complex forms at fast tempos...
An improvisation too preoccupied with theoretical concepts, form or technique will be experienced by an audience as an academic exercise, whereas the most simple cry of the heart... is easily recognised by the sympathetic vibrations within the hearts of its audience. Moreover, the heartfelt note radiates a sincerity that a flurry of carefully contrived phrases can never emulate...
Call of the heart
In fact, the very act of conceptualisation (‘thinking’ as opposed to ‘awareness’) removes one’s consciousness from the here and now of the moment, creating a duality of consciousness and an alienation from the heart (‘feeling’)... In true improvisation, the heart and mind must be singly focussed on the omnipresent, without distraction or self-consciousness. The key to this feat is to always subordinate everything to the call of the heart — the rest will follow, provided one is already amply prepared, technically speaking...
Most jazz musicians have expended considerable energy practising over different forms, methodically applying a variety of theoretical tools. Sometimes musicians will practise a composition until they feel so comfortable and familiar with it that they can then improvise more freely...
The highest kind of improvisation happens when a musician becomes so technically disciplined, so immersed in the call of the heart (‘feeling’), and so absolutely single-pointed in concentration that every note combination and nuance unfolds into a new magical excursion, developing into a sublime, cohesive pattern and culminating into its most supreme expression.
Musicians who attain this level with regularity are undoubtedly the musical masters of jazz."
"Together, let's restore beautiful artful inventive melodies to the conversation of contemporary music! Even a small ripple affects the whole pond - and a large tide affects the universe."