Versatility has characterized the career of Ari Brown, a Chicago-based reedman and occasional pianist who plays hard bop and post-bop as convincingly as he plays avant-garde jazz. After growing up on the city's South Side and graduating from high school in the early '60s, Brown attended Chicago's Wilson College, where he met Jack DeJohnette, Henry Threadgill, Roscoe Mitchell, Joseph Jarman, and others who would later become members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). Brown played piano in mostly soul and blues bands until 1965, when he took up the sax and starting becoming seriously interested in jazz. In 1971, he joined AACM and made jazz his primary focus.
Brown played sax on a few albums by a little-known group called the Awakening (who included bassist Rufus Reid), but after losing some teeth in a 1974 auto accident, he gave up playing the sax for about a year and played the piano exclusively. Brown made a full recovery, made the sax his main instrument once again and went on to work with players ranging from McCoy Tyner and Don Patterson to Sonny Stitt in the 1970s. The Chicagoan also kept busy during the 1980s, recording with Lester Bowie before being hired by Von Freeman, Bobby Watson, and Anthony Braxton (who hired him for his Charlie Parker Project). It was in 1989 that Brown began his lucrative membership in Kahil El'Zabar's Ritual Trio