Old Black Magic Box

As electronica takes over the Deauville, Charlie and Yvonne Brown remember music before the sequencer

So Charlie and Yvonne Brown's band dwindled from four or five pieces to two, relying on a synthesizer and sequencer to enhance their pared-down act with prerecorded tracks. The couple began integrating the technology into their show about four years ago. "It was a novelty; it was cute," says Yvonne, "but we didn't think it would end up replacing the whole damn band."

The Browns do not care for the electronic accompaniment. They remember a time when audiences also scoffed at the mechanical riffs but admit with some resignation that listeners have grown accustomed to the sound. "When we first started using instrumental tracks, we tried to be as discreet as possible," Charlie says, smiling sheepishly. "Now no one seems to care. It's all out in the open."

Although no longer strictly taboo, the technical witchcraft cannot conjure the excitement of a swingin' combo. "There isn't a drum machine that can play with brushes, or even off the beat, and you won't ever replace the sound of that baby grand," Yvonne notes, looking affectionately over at the piano and at Charlie who sits behind it, playing a heartfelt rendition of the Ray Charles classic, "Georgia on My Mind."

Not surprisingly Charlie and Yvonne would like to see a revival of the adult lounge scene on Miami Beach. "They don't have enough music in these rooms down here, not like in New Orleans," Yvonne observes. "I mean, this is a resort city. No one's playing for people over the age of 35 or 40. Why don't these hotels and clubs hire three or four musicians with some real instruments?"

Despite their frustration the couple thinks they've been lucky, and they know their experience counts for something. "Coming out of New York in the Seventies, you had to do a little bit of everything, play all kinds of music," says Yvonne. "When Charlie and I first met, we did standards, pop music, then moved into disco." She grins, proud just to have survived this long in a fickle industry. "Now we're right back to where we started, doing mostly standards, and it's beautiful; it really is...." Her voice trails off as she catches an exchange between Charlie and a gray-haired man in a polo shirt sitting alone near the piano.

"“New York, New York' for this fellow over here," announces Charlie, repeating the gentleman's request for the benefit of the three remaining patrons while he switches to the appropriate track with the remote control. Yvonne shakes her head and smiles. "That man," she says, marveling at her husband, "will entertain oneperson." And then, calling across the room, she urges Charlie on: "Sing it, baby!"

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