Investment banker leaves job for banjo


    By Elizabeth Wardle

    A commonality is found between investment banking and writing music in Alison Brown, Grammy Award-winning banjo player who will play with her quartet and guest artist Andrea Zonn Thursday.

    “In Brown”s hands, the banjo is capable of fluid musical phrases of boundless beauty,” said Billboard Magazine.

    Anyone who may be hesitant about the sound or power of the banjo only needs to listen to Brown perform.

    An epiphany led her to quit her job with Smith Barney and spend her days at home writing music. She intended for a brief sabbatical from investment banking but when she received an invitation to join Alison Krauss”s band Union Station the brief sabbatical turned into a new career, according to a press release.

    “There was too much about that kind of work that did not feed my soul,” Brown said in US Airway”s February 2002 issue of Attache.

    Brown grew up on bluegrass music and before playing the banjo, she took up the guitar.

    Her distinctive approach to playing the banjo results in a distinguishing blend of bluegrass music with jazz, Celtic and Latin influences.

    Brown has achieved an international reputation as a banjo player for pushing the instrument out of its familiar Appalachian settings and into new musical territory. She composed and played her way into the affections of jazz-hued acoustic music fans with a unique voice on a unique instrument, according to University Communications.

    Brown, who received a bachelor”s degree from Harvard and MBA from UCLA, never imagined herself as an acclaimed banjo player performing in Carnegie Hall and accepting a Grammy Award.

    Before entering Harvard, playing the banjo was still a hobby. Brown intended to pursue a career in medicine, spent most of her time engaged in Boston”s bluegrass underworld and came out with a degree in history and literature.

    Brown didn”t put her education behind her. Together with her husband, bass player and producer Garry West, they founded Compass Records in 1995. They don”t just own the company they actually work there. The New York Times reported that with sales per album in the tens of thousands, Compass has evolved into a thriving business, one that Harvard Business School has named a model of entrepreneurship.

    Guest artist Zonn has also appeared at the Grammy Awards as well as “The Tonight Show,” “The Today Show” and “Late Night with David Letterman.” She graduated from Vanderbilt”s Blair School of Music and has performed with a variety of artists including James Taylor, Vince Gill, Trisha Yearwood and Amy Grant.

    Other members of the quartet include John R. Burr playing the piano, her husband Garry West playing the bass and Larry Atamanuik playing the drums.

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