Stephen Higginbotham Braunginn

Stephen ’s Contributions

06/10/10    Community Articles

Has the Complexion of Jazz Changed?

Jazz became the popular music form of this country in early-to-mid 1930's. Big bands, hot dance jazz bands, and New Orleans jazz were cookin' and rollin'. Harlem, located in the heart of New York City, became the jazz capital; it was the place for uptown...

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About Stephen Higginbotham Braunginn

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Stephen (Steve) L. Higginbotham Braunginn is pleased to join the JazzTimes community. He’s spent more than 50 years listening to and interacting with jazz in a variety of ways and settings. If it’s not obvious, jazz is a passion for Steve and it all began at home with his parents at a very young age.
The sounds of Duke, Basie, Billie, Sarah and Ella, among many other big band greats, filtered throughout Steve’s home in Columbus, Ohio; his parents listened only to jazz. His parents were part of the World War II generation, too young to go to war but old enough to dig the big band jazz sounds streaming out of New York. Braunginn’s mother hails from NY City and his father from Worcester, MA. For those familiar with one of Fletcher Henderson’s great trombonists, J.C. Higginbotham, and his niece, Billie Holiday composer, Irene Higginbotham, Braunginn is proud to call them family.
The name Braunginn is truly unique in that Steve and his wife of 34 years combined their last names (Brown/Higginbotham) to make their own family name. It remains a mystery regarding the state of the family tree for Higginbothams originating from Worcester, but it’s known that Steve’s father was born and raised in Worcester during the same time as Irene. Jazz truly was and remains in the Higginbotham-Braunginn blood.
It’s now 1968, the year of universal change. For Braunginn, it was the same. His parents moved five of their six children from Columbus to Nashville, TN (his oldest brother enlisted in the Air Force at the height of the Tet Offensive). Steve and his twin brother attended a Catholic High School, which cut short any future Braunginn had in playing jazz sax. In junior high in Columbus, he picked up baritone and then tenor sax. But moving to Nashville destroyed all hopes of playing. No band program in the high school. Furthermore, private lessons were only a dream for Steve and his twin; it was hard to do extra things because their father was an Episcopal minister with five kids at home.
Being a Vietnam era youth, Steve became deeply involved in the Civil Rights Movement, Peace Movement, and everything else in between. Music choices varied from the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers Band to Muddy Waters, Otis Span, Aretha Franklin, King Curtis, soul music and straight ahead jazz. One element in all of his music delights was that they all were based on blues and jazz and, with the jam bands, improvisation.
Steve and his twin graduated in 1972 and moved to College Park, MD. Steve attended University of MD for two years and then moved out to Madison, WI where his twin moved in order to attend school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, earlier that year. His life, then, took another major change.
In Braunginn’s first 15 months in Madison, he met a woman name Jenny and married her in August, 1975. Then, it was out to the country, back to the land. Bought a farm in southwest WI with two other guys, moved in, and began teaching special education in a very small school district, Kickapoo Schools. Steve had to have been the only person of color for forty miles. But that didn’t matter because jazz came back into his life in this school district of no more than 800 students.
Kickapoo High School had a kickass jazz band in a school that graduated about 50 kids a year. Their new, young, band teacher and Steve hooked up, became great friends and Steve was back into playing jazz. His friend, Bix (guess what he played ?), and Steve would work together to build Steve’s skills. Before you knew it, Steve was jamming with the actors from the famed American Players Theater. After doing a Shakespearean show in the woods, many of the actors, with Steve tagging along, went to the Frank Lloyd Wright designed restaurant, The Spring Green Inn, located in Spring Green, WI. Jamming is what they did until bar closing.
But all of this had Steve trying to figure out what to do with his life. He was at a junction of great proportions: move to Madison to teach and go into politics or stay on their farm and pour himself into jazz. Teaching and politics won out.
One good thing happened during this time. Steve was given a jazz show to host on Madison’s community listener-sponsored radio station, WORT89.9-FM (now streaming HD at wort-fm.org).
Steve’s music tastes radically changed since he moved to Wisconsin in 1974. It was then 1982, he and his wife had a daughter in a homebirth, and Steve was on the air. Underground rock slid away from Steve as jazz moved in. His favorite era at the time was from Bee-Bop (1947) to 1970. From Bee-Bop to hard bop, to avant-garde, cool jazz, third stream jazz and the jamming sounds of Dexter Gordon, Johnny Griffin, Roy Eldridge and Wilbur Ware. Steve’s favorites? Miles, Trane, Sonny Rollins, Clifford Brown, Monk, Max Roach, McCoy Tyner…you get the idea.
As Steve got more involved in the jazz community over many years, he grew very concerned about the decline of jazz and the declining interest of African Americans in jazz. The Latin Jazz sound had a growing audience. No problems there. Venues started closing but Steve and many others in Madison’s jazz community remained true to their passion.
Steve had a long hiatus from radio but he returned, renewed and invigorated.
Today, Steve co-hosts a show, Strictly Jazz Sounds, with Madison’s greatest jazz pianist and composer, Jane Reynolds. Together, they’ve conducted and broadcasted interviews with jazz giants such as Sonny Rollins, McCoy Tyner, Sonny Fortune, Roscoe Mitchell, Myra Melford and Richard Davis. They successfully published Sonny’s interview in Jazz Improv. Later, another one was published with JI for their first jazz festival. It was with McCoy Tyner and it was the feature interview for the festival.
The biggest currently project underway is celebrating jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams’ centennial birthday. Steve is involved with a committee of prominent jazz artists and aficianados. The passion lives on. The biggest event will culminate the celebration when Mary Lou Williams Collective’s art director and jazz pianist, Geri Allen, arrives in Madison along with Mary Lou Williams’ music curator at Rutgers, University. A seminar will be given, a symposium will be held and it’ll all close with Geri Allen and her band putting on the final punctuation mark.
Steve’s in heaven with all of this. That why JazzTimes is on his facebook and plays a large role in his life passion, jazz.

Stephen Higginbotham Braunginn joined the JazzTimes community on Jun 08, 2010