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Ronnie Brown; Jazz Pianist's Style Showed Classics Touch


Longtime Orange County jazz pianist Ronnie Brown, whose classical training at the New England Conservatory of Music enabled him to incorporate bits of Bach and Mozart as well as Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson into his music, has died of complications from Alzheimer's disease. He was 68.

His condition had prevented him from performing for nearly a decade, his son, Michael Brown, said from Las Vegas. But Brown was a regular during the 1970s and '80s in nightclubs, restaurants and lounges, most frequently in the county's central coastal communities.

He chose to teach and play jazz rather than commit to life as a classical pianist because, as he told The Times in 1987, "you have to make that your whole life. It would take me six to seven hours' practice a day at least to get into the concert attitude as far as classical music goes. There are so many other things to do in life--you have to pick some roses too."

Brown was born in Warwick, R.I., and had been an avid sailor in high school and college, a hobby he continued after coming to Orange County in the late 1960s.

On graduating from the New England Conservatory in Boston with his master's degree in music, he joined the faculty and taught piano. Brown played in the U.S. Army Band for two years in the '50s, and after his discharge he accompanied, arranged, conducted or appeared with artists including Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin.

After a few years living in Van Nuys, Brown brought his family to Orange County, settling in Santa Ana Heights near what then was called Orange County Airport.

Brown, who died Saturday at an Alzheimer's care facility in Corona, is survived by six children--Scott Brown of Ramona, Calif., Rick, Michael and Ronald Brown of Las Vegas, Shari Brown of Mahwah, N.J., Patricia Childs of Lumberton, Tex.--and a brother, Karl Brown, of Cranston, R.I.

A funeral service will be held Saturday at 4 p.m. at St. John's Episcopal Church, 183 E. Bay St., Costa Mesa.

His children have established the Ronnie Brown Memorial Fund and ask that any contributions be made to the fund, which will be used to pay funeral expenses.

Any money raised beyond the cost of the funeral will be used to establish a memorial for musicians with Alzheimer's, Michael Brown said.

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