Alison Brown Quintet

Alison Brown doesn’t play the banjo.
Alison Brown plays music on the banjo.

Alison Brown has thrown out all the rule books when it comes to making music. As one of the most multi-faceted minds on today’s roots music scene, she brings innovation, intelligence, and grace to everything she does. She plays the banjo her way, and the result is a sound that blends the rugged drive of bluegrass with the harmonic sensibilities of jazz, winning her acclaim and a Grammy Award in the process.

Brown’s route to becoming an internationally recognized banjo player is as unique as her music. She received an undergraduate degree from Harvard and an MBA from UCLA, pursuing a career in investment banking. She missed the bluegrass music she’d grown up playing in Southern California so much that when Alison Krauss called, looking for a banjo player, she made the decision to give up her Wall Street career for a career in music. She toured with Krauss and Union Station and with Michelle Shocked before forming her own group, The Alison Brown Quartet, in 1993.

Over the past three decades, Brown and her band have been winning over traditionalists and mainstream music fans alike with its unique style. The band has toured extensively throughout the United States and abroad, with stops at some of music’s most prestigious venues, including the Kennedy Center, Newport Folk Festival, Telluride Bluegrass Festival, MerleFest, Dublin National Concert Hall, and Scotland’s Celtic Connections. The band has travelled to Central and South America at the invitation of the US Information Agency and to Japan as Friendship Ambassadors on behalf of the Nashville Mayor’s office to celebrate a new sister city relationship between Kamakura, Japan and Music City.

Brown has recorded 12 critically-acclaimed solo albums and received multiple Grammy nominations and a Grammy Award for a collaboration with Bela Fleck. She participated in Alison Krauss’s Grammy-winning album, I’ve Got That Old Feeling, and received a nomination for her own recording, Simple Pleasures. She has received the USA Artists Fellowship in Music and a Distinguished Achievement Award from the International Bluegrass Music Association. She was the first woman in the IBMA’s history to win an instrumental of the year award. She has been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, NPR’s All Things Considered, and in the pages of The Wall Street Journal and New York Times.

In the early 1990s, Brown and her husband, bass player Garry West, started their own record label, Small World Music. It led to the launch of Compass Records, an internationally recognized label that Billboard has called “One of the greatest independent labels of the last decade.” Brown serves on the Board of the Nashville Chapter of the Recording Academy, on the adjunct faculty of Vanderbilt’s Blair School of Music, and as co-chair of the Steve Martin Banjo Prize.

Brown’s latest release, On Banjo, continues her musical explorations with a set of original compositions that explore the range of the instrument. It features an eclectic cast of collaborators including Steve Martin, the Kronos Quartet, Sharon Isbin, Anat Cohen, Sierra Hull, and Stuart Duncan.

The New Yorker summed up Brown’s career this way: “Alison Brown left a career in investment banking for life as a banjo musician. Anyone who thinks this was a foolish move hasn’t heard her play.”

Come hear her play.