Dr. Kevin Brown, Columbia Public Schools’ new assistant superintendent, never goes anywhere without his saxophone. He plays both tenor and soprano sax, and he started when he was 23, fresh out of grad school and teaching at Southern University of Baton Rouge.
“I was teaching kids at the university basically my same age,” Brown says. “I went to a pawn shop, and I just wanted to look around, and I saw some instruments, and I had a master’s degree and everything, and I decided not to teach summer school — I wanted to learn how to play the saxophone.”
He started out teaching himself, squeaking out the notes to “Go Tell Aunt Rhody” and “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” He baffled his parents by playing “Jingle Bells” repetitively in July.
Eventually, he got a private teacher, and once he got good enough, he studied at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, in Milwaukee, under instructor Berkley Fudge, a famed Wisconsin saxophonist.
Brown taught in the daytime and played in the nighttime.
“To be honest, I’m glad it happened late in life for me because most people put their instruments down, but I had gotten my education out of the way, so I wasn’t depending on the instrument to make money,” Brown said. “You know, I had a teaching job, but I surrounded myself with other people who knew far more than I did, so I was able to gather stuff from them and practice for hours and hours, and I did, and I’ve been playing ever since.”
Brown thinks learning music can be an important part of education, and he appreciates the emotional side of learning music.
“Being a jazz musician, or an improviser, has sometimes helped me on the job in dealing with things that I’ve never dealt with before,” he says. “But on the other side of that, it’s a great outlet. It allows for relaxation.
Brown has taught psychology, sociology, government, and history at collegiate and secondary levels, and this is his first year as assistant superintendent for secondary schools. In his role, he will ensure that middle and high schools align to the CPS vision for student success.
“This includes making sure that your principals are savvy and that they are strong, instructional leaders with the capacity to lead their faculty and staff, and ensuring that the teachers are doing what is best for all students every 50 minutes throughout the day,” Brown says. He specifically would like to focus on equity and achievement gap concerns.
For Brown, education and music are both passions. Every once in a while, he wonders what his life would be like if he had pursued music professionally.
“Every time I hear Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, every time I hear the great jazz people that no longer live – and still live, such as Wynton Marsalis and Nicholas Payton – I have strong desires and wishes to play at that capacity.”
But you can only professionally pick one, Brown says; “You can’t straddle the fence.”
After playing with two bands in the past in Wisconsin, Brown is looking forward to meeting musicians in Columbia. He has played at Murry’s before. Brown was out to dinner at the restaurant while interviewing for his position in Columbia, and he asked if he could sit in with the band.
“They said, ‘You have your instrument with you?’” Brown remembers.
Luckily, he had it in his car.
In February, Gilmore Middle School inducted new members into its hall of fame, including former drama teacher Richard Chambers, former science teacher Dan Werlington and past Gilmore principals.
On Saturday, Feb. 7, the Gilmore auditorium was filled with alumni, inductees and their families, RUSD staff and many devoted community members to recognize those individuals who have provided valued and loyal service to Gilmore.
“It’s more than a building,” Gilmore science teacher Jennifer Al-Sager said. “Anyone who has been part of this building and given their blood, sweat and tears will agree that calling Gilmore a building is inaccurate. This is a home.”
Superintendent Dr. Lolli Haws thanked all of the inductees for their service and the thousands of children whose lives they touched.
Principal Bryan Wright hung new pictures of former principals Dan Thielen and Kevin Brown on Gilmore’s Wall of Principals. All former and present principals are automatically members of the Gilmore Hall of Fame, Wright said.
“To be inducted into the hall of fame is special,” Wright explained. “The inductees are staff members who, while working at Gilmore Middle School, brought honor and distinction to the school and students. Their contributions have positively impacted the lives of others.”
About 40 people filled the Buhler Room of the Lakefront Branch YMCA, 725 Lake Ave., on Wednesday evening as leaders from law enforcement, public safety and education participated in the discussion.
Participating were: Pete Payne, Mount Pleasant Police officer; Carmen Lassiter, Wisconsin public defender; Kevin Brown, former Racine-area educator and current principal at Cherokee Heights Middle School in Madison; R.L. Woods, Racine Police chaplain; Art Howell, Racine Police chief; Tonya Scarver, Racine Police detective; and Eric Prybylski, Racine Police officer.
Ahmad Qawi, chief operations officer at the Racine Family YMCA, moderated the evening’s questions.
When Qawi asked a question about police shootings, Chief Howell told a recent story of how his officers peacefully resolved a situation involving the potential for deadly force.
Howell told the audience the story how two of his police offers, who happened to be white, responded to a shooting on Jan. 21 at the Corinne Owens Transit Center involving two teenagers, who happened to be black – and armed.
“One officer got a gun away from him without force. A second kid put his hand on his gun and could have been shot,” Howell told the audience. “But the officers waited long enough for the kid to throw the gun into the river.”
Qawi also asked why Wisconsin was one of the worst states for raising African-American children. Brown shared his experience as a principal in Racine.
“Wisconsin is a very progressive state with a college on almost every corner; however everyone is not benefiting from it,” Brown said. “When I was vice principal of Horlick High School and I would go to AP courses, which kids can get college credit in high school for free, they were all-white.”
Brown went on to say that everything goes back to education. “If you do not have your education, you cannot even stand in line to become a police officer. You can’t even stand in line to be told ‘no.’ Eventually, all you need is one ‘yes.’ ”
Principal Kevin Brown was named administrator of the year for his work leading the school in increased technology use and higher test scores. Brown has been a key part of obtaining more technology resources for Gilmore and also helped start a Saturday program to help students perform better on state tests.
RACINE – Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce on Wednesday announced its Excellence in Education Award winners.
The awards, given annually, recognize an exceptional area teacher, administrator, guidance counselor, volunteer and program based on nominations from school and community members. The nominations, collected in December and January, are narrowed and winners are selected by a panel of RAMAC business members, said Carol Barkow, RAMAC director of community partnerships.
This year no guidance counselor was nominated, but panel members chose winners in the other four categories. Winners work with a variety of Racine Unified schools or the district as a whole.
Gilmore Middle School Principal Kevin Brown has been chosen administrator of the year for his work leading the school in increased technology use and increased test scores.
Brown has been a key part of obtaining more technology resources for the school, 2330 Northwestern Ave., and of urging staff members to share input, nominators said.
Brown also helped start a Saturday morning program at Gilmore to help students perform better on state tests.
“This program helped increase test scores dramatically,” wrote nominator Nicholas Sturycz, a Gilmore teacher. “Kevin has helped to focus the entire atmosphere of the school … for students to be successful in their academic road to success.”
Sometimes outreach takes action.
RACINE-Kevin Brown is taking over this year as principal of Gilmore Middle School. His first order of business: get out into the community and check the pulse of the neighborhood around the school, which is located at 2330 Northwestern Ave., not far from the district’s administrative building.
On Tuesday, Brown went door-to-door along the streets immediately surrounding the school, with one of Gilmore’s new assistant principals, Kathryn Poznanski.
They knocked on doors and introduced themselves to the residents, many of whom are elderly. Some were reluctant to answer at first, Brown said.
When they realized why the two school officials were standing outside, they were eager to open up.
“The reception has been great. Most of the time, the neighbors don’t think we care or the school doesn’t care,” Brown said. “I want them to know that we do care.”
Residents in the neighborhood around the school said it was the first time they had experienced this kind of visit from an official at the school. Many are concerned about some of the fights that occur after school and they worry that some of the students might be responsible for minor vandalism that has occurred in the past.
Virginia Barnes, 64, has lived kitty corner from the school for the past six years. She said she hasn’t had too many problems with students from the school, but she was pleased to see Brown and Poznanski reaching out.
“It’s nice and different. It’s the first time,” Barnes said she has had a school official visit her door.
Barnes, who has a foster child who will start seventh grade at Gilmore next week, raised four children who attended Racine Unified schools and have been out of school for a few years, “but I never had anybody come to my house to see how things are going.”
Brown hopes his efforts will help build a relationship with neighbors and change the perceptions about the school.
Racine Unified schools start up again on Tuesday, Sept. 2.
RACINE – Tears welled in the corners of Susan Buscemi’s yellowing eyes as she lay in the hospital bed beside the window in her home on Eaton Lane.
In the living room, surrounded by family, Buscemi’s daughter, Ashley Douglas, 18, fought back tears of her own, put on her scarlet cap and gown and granted her dying mother’s wish.
She graduated from Horlick High School.
A little more than four years ago, Buscemi, 51, learned she had Stage IV colon cancer. She left her first visit to the doctor with only one concern. She wanted to see her youngest daughter – the last of her four children – graduate.
“The first thing she said was, ‘Am I going to see Ashley graduate?” Susan’s husband Joe Buscemi said.
Since then Susan has fought – unsuccessfully – to rid her body of the cancer.
Her doctors told Susan last week there is nothing more they can do to help her fight the cancer that has ravaged her body. Years of chemotherapy didn’t work. Her liver is shutting down. The cancer never went into remission, her husband said.
Doctors said it is unlikely she could make it to Ashley’s graduation on Sunday, June 8. If she’s still alive Sunday family members said there is no way she could make it to the school in her frail condition, no matter how much she wants to be there. Susan is, for the most part, confined to a special bed and can’t walk without assistance.
“Your time is not measured in months. It’s not measured in weeks. It’s short,” Joe said doctors told his wife.
Horlick High School Assistant Principal Kevin Brown had never received such a request. The Friday call sent Brown scrambling to make sure Ashley was cleared for graduation.
He had to get her cap and gown and he had to get his. Then there was the diploma. And he wanted to bring flowers, too.
So Monday afternoon in the Buscemi’s living room Brown and colleague Al Hutton, a school guidance counselor, gave one of their families a memory they’ll always cherish, a special ceremony for a mother and a daughter. There was no need for “Pomp and Circumstance.”
Family members, including Susan’s brothers and sisters, came to the house and cleaned-up the garden. The family planned to celebrate Monday afternoon in the backyard.
“We were trying to make it like a real graduation. I wanted to make sure she had everything, because pretty soon, all she’ll have are pictures,” Brown said.
When the moment arrived the family gathered around Susan’s bed. Brown and Hutton presented Ashley her diploma. Her mother watched her daughter graduate. The family applauded.
Instead of throwing her cap in the air, Ashley leaned in and hugged her fragile mother, diploma in hand.
Susan Buscemi’s dying wish came true.
Racine Journal Times talking our upcoming jazz concert at the Racine Theatre this Saturday.
RACINE – Jean’s Jazz Series presents the second in its season of three evenings celebrating the diversity of jazz with Kevin Brown and Friends and the Kal Bergendahl Project at 7 p.m. Saturday.
The musical series is in its fifth season. All performances are at the Racine Theatre Guild, 2519 Northwestern Ave.
Kevin Brown and Friends bring jazz tradition to a smooth jazz concept from Racine’s own Kevin Brown (by day, an assistant principal at Gilmore Middle School) on tenor sax, Billie Johnson on bass, Brian Harris of Waukegan at the piano, Milwaukee’s RoeMarcus Jones beating the drums and vocalist Jasmun Song.
Kal Bergendahl Project steps into the worlds of R & B, pop and smooth jazz to create a distinctive, riveting mix of music. Notable members include Harold Mims (keyboard), Racine native Jeremy Scott (saxophone) and Kal Bergendahl (bass).
Individual tickets cost $15 for adults, $13 for seniors ages 62 and older and $5 for students ages 21 and under. Call (262) 633-4218. More information may be found at the Web site, http: / /
Four horns, three percussionists, keyboards and bass will bring the sounds of Latin jazz, Brazilian samba and Afro-Cuban music to the Racine Theatre Guild next Thursday when the Milwaukee-based De La Buena takes the stage for the opening night of Jean’s Jazz Series 2006.
Drawing on it’s members vast musical interests, De La Buena has created it own vision of Latin Jazz with roots in the music of 1970’s-era artists including Ray Barretto, Cal Tjader, Willie Colon, and Tito Puente.
“We strive for the gravel, grit, warmth and sheer rawness of the music of that era while working to have very tight, streamlined and unique arrangements,” said David Wake, keyboard player for De La Buena.
Most of what De La Buena will play at Jean’s Jazz will be original music, composed collaboratively by the group which performs regularly at Milwaukee’s Shank Hall and Jazz Estate, and includes the talents of Racine native Jamie Breiwick on trumpet and flugal horn.
“Being respectful of the traditions and cultures of the music is always at the forefront of our explorations,” said Wake, “But, we do take chances.”
Those chances take the form of unorthodox horn harmonies, song forms and song selections, he said.
“How else has, or will music progress without pushing the boundaries?”
De La Buena is just half of the world music equation for March 16. The first two concerts in Jean’s Jazz Series will each feature two ensembles and the opening act for De La Buena will be One Drum – a world music group that Wake described as “a big musicultural family.”
“One Drum covers cultural mediums world-wide with the same respect for tradition that De La Buena covers in the Latin vein,” said the keyboard player, who works with both groups. Quite a few of the musicians on stage that night, in fact, play with both De La Buena and One Drum.
“On March 16, you can experience One Drum taking you on a trip around the world and you will see how we are all connected,” said Wake.
Principal sax The series will turn to more traditional jazz, as well as smooth jazz, for its second offering on April 1. Racinian Kevin Brown and friends will feature the music of straight-ahead jazz greats ranging from Cole Porter and Irving Berlin to John Coltrane and Charlie Parker as the opening act for the second concert.
Brown, who by day is assistant principal of Gilmore Middle School, came to saxophone playing late in life but has been making up for lost musical time ever since. A Louisiana native, Brown was 25 when he bought his first saxophone from a pawn shop in 1993.
“My dad tried to get me to play an instrument when I was in the fifth grade, but somehow shooting marbles seemed more important to me at the time,” said Brown. “Little did I know that I’d be here, at this point in my life playing the sax.”
Brown was teaching at a university in Louisiana when he spotted the horn in the pawn shop. Much of his time prior to 1993 had been spent going to school year-round to earn a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees and Brown said he found himself becoming burned out.
“I decided not to teach that summer and that’s when I bought the horn,” he said.
A few months later, Brown came to Racine to teach in the Unified School District and soon after moving here he began studying music at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music with saxophonist Berkeley Fudge. He also studied for a while with Curt Hanrahan of Racine’s Lakeshore Conservatory of Music.
“I started from scratch, but I put in hours and hours of practice, surrounded myself with veterans in the business and begged people to let me sit in with them,” he said.
Since then he has performed with other musicians at venues including Caroline’s and the Jazz Estate in Milwaukee, Kenosha’s Hob Nob restaurant and Henry & Wanda’s in Racine. While he isn’t comfortable being called a professional musician, Brown said playing the saxophone is one of the most serious things he’s ever done in his life. And he feels honored to have been asked to be a part of Jean’s Jazz Series.
Accompanying Brown on stage will be Billie Johnson (who has played with Lionel Hampton and Abbey Lincoln) on bass, Brian Harris of Waukegan on piano, Ro Marcus Jones of Milwaukee on drums and vocalist Jasmun Song.
Also on the bill April 1 is the Kal Bergendahl Project, a Kenosha County-based smooth jazz ensemble formed by front man and bassist Kal Bergendahl. Bergendahl, formerly with the group Emerge, founded KBP in the fall of 2005 and describes the band’s sound as reminiscent of David Sanborn and Kirk Whalum on the jazz side, with pop influences including Norah Jones and Joss Stone.
Other members of the group are faculty and alumni of the Living Light School of Worship, a church-based music program, of which Bergendahl is founding co-director. Included are Racine native and saxophonist Jeremy Scott and Harold Mims, a Berklee College of Music graduate, on keyboards.
Dancin’ shoes Such diversity of sound is something that series founder Joe Mooney says is among his goals for Jean’s Jazz, which he created five years ago in memory of his wife, Jean, a jazz and theater fan who died in 2001. Mooney used money from memorials to start the series, which serves as a fund-raiser for the Theatre Guild.
Previous seasons have featured a wide-range of performers from Jackie Allen, to Harmonious Wail and Mrs. Fun. One of the most popular performances was last year’s season finisher by The Swing-0-Matics, which had the audience dancing in the aisles.
Based on that reaction, Mooney has chosen to return to the swing era for this season’s third concert and this time around, the swingin’ sound will be courtesy of The Mr. Lucky Swing Syndicate. With a minimum of 11 musicians, the Syndicate has a song list of more than 500 danceable numbers, including rhythm and blues, ballroom, and both traditional and modern swing.
Having earned the title of Swing Band of the Year from the Wisconsin Area Music Industry Association in 2005 and 2003, this group consists of professional musicians who also perform with other top-name area acts, and have toured with national artists such as Frank Sinatra, the Miami Sound Machine and KC & The Sunshine Band. And, when they aren’t swinging on stage, these performers hold down a variety of day jobs including lawyer, bank vice president, computer programmer, music educator and general-purpose parent.
“Last year everyone had a blast at the swing event and that’s exactly what we want to do again,” said Mooney.
Moving along While Jean’s Jazz Series may not yet have reached the unofficial goals Mooney set for himself at its inception, the founder says he feels it has been a success. Originally he had hoped that after five years, tickets would be hard to come by, and that in ten years he’d be able to bring in national recording artists to perform. Neither is the case yet, but some inroads have been made, Mooney said.
“I have talked with people from Narada Productions and, from a financial standpoint, it has been a successful fundraiser for the Theatre Guild – and I know that would make Jean very happy.”
In the meantime Mooney says he is glad to be able to offer audiences relaxing evenings out where they can hear good music in a smoke-free, acoustically superior atmosphere.
“We want to create some fun for people,” he said. “I want them to go away saying they enjoyed themselves.”
In addition to the music, each concert will feature a cash bar and complimentary treats, courtesy of Mooney’s daughter, Tricia, who is a pastry chef, as well as coffee from the Mocha Lisa coffee shop.
Sponsors for this year’s series include HarborFest, Landmark Title of Racine, Inc., the Racine Raiders, and Norco Manufacturing.