The history of the organ in jazz spans six decades. Fats Waller recorded on cumbersome cathedral instruments, and streamlined electric models have been used by contemporaries Carla Bley, Joe Zawinul and others. Washington native Sedatrius Brown falls somewhere between those two poles, stylistically as well as chronologically. In common with just about any other jazz organist, Brown began on the piano -- in her case at age 5 and by ear. Her progress was so rapid that within a year she was accompanying the choir in the neighborhood church in which her parents sang. "My mother taught me how to play nursery rhymes," Brown explains, "and I took it from there."
Spirituals and gospels in church, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan on the radio and "a lot of show tunes that came on the TV" helped Brown shape her vocal style, she said. At age 15, in the mid-'50s, she won her second prize of $25 in an Apollo Theater amateur contest. "They had a long hook they would reach out and snatch you off stage with if the audience booed you -- but I didn't get booed."
Brown had taken up electric organ by the late '50s and was playing at area clubs like the old Tip Top and Birdland. The '60s took her on the road with her own trio and in the '70s her base was California, where she recorded with saxophonist Pharaoh Saunders and toured with the Isaac Hayes troupe. Resettled in Washington, Brown currently can be heard in a program of jazz standards and ballads, blues and Latin tunes with percussionist Phil Kozak and guitarist-vocalist Charles Carlton at Mr. Y's on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.