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His Music and Mission Often Inspire Each Other

Jackson Browne, ever the fund-raiser, will perform Saturday to help a South-Central L.A. high school.


Jackson Browne didn't have a record deal yet when he got his first taste of pop music's fund-raising potential. The young musician was invited to the KMET-FM studio by legendary L.A. radio personality B. Mitchel Reed around 1970 to participate in a fund-raiser for the L.A. Free Clinic.

Browne went on to become the golden boy of the 1970s' California singer-songwriter movement, releasing the acclaimed and influential 1972 debut "Jackson Browne" and notching four Top 10 albums. But that early lesson never left him.

"It's a thing that people think of doing naturally, because one, you can make money with the music, and two, the music will carry the inspiration and the healing impulse to address things that need to be addressed," says Browne, 53.

He should know. In the latter part of his career, Browne has become inextricably identified with the benefit concert, be it for Amnesty International or a friend's medical expenses.

His current focus: education. On Saturday he'll perform at the Orpheum Theatre downtown, with blues singer Keb' Mo', to raise funds for Friends of Washington Prep. The foundation supports music and theater programs at the South-Central L.A. magnet high school, whose jazz band will also perform, and whose choir will join Browne during his set.

"To be close to that kind of program begins to break down some of the mystery in race relations that has been present my whole life," says Browne, who's been shuttling in recent weeks between recording sessions for a new album and rehearsals on the campus with the choir.

"We're a culture that has received so much from African American artists of all kinds, and there continues to be this inequity and economic injustice," he adds. "This is a school that has a hugely talented student body and no resources.

"I think in very local and immediate terms more than big, symbolic terms. It's really important that people grab hold of where they live and where they work. If you want a city that is not divided, if you want a city that is at peace, you have to support education, and not prisons. Rather than support oppressive programs to eradicate gangs, you have to really deal with what's missing in their lives."

'Knowing That You're

Doing Something Positive'

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Browne has suddenly found the fund-raising stage a crowded place, with events high-profile and obscure being mounted to assist victims, starting with the Sept. 21 "America: A Tribute to Heroes" telethon.

"It's empowering; there's a certain amount of solace in knowing that you're doing something positive," Browne says.

"There are a lot of really challenging things about the current situation, but I must say it felt good to call in to the telethon and donate money to the victims. I thought it was really great. It took a lot of show business chops to make it happen that way, without any show business fanfare and without the introductions. It was just so heartfelt."

Of course you won't raise money or awareness if you can't draw a crowd, and from a distance it can appear that Browne--whose last album, "Looking East," came out in 1996 and stayed on the chart for just two months--has sacrificed a conventional career for a succession of social crusades.

"I don't think so, but I can see why people might think that," says Browne, who expects his new record to be ready for a spring release by Elektra Records. "I think that my songs are informed by this work, and my life is enriched by it, so I don't know how to separate them.

"It may be that I give something up by doing it, but I'm as active as I want to be.... I feel fortunate. I have never wanted to tour year in and year out and never wanted to work that hard, and I get to play as often as I want, and I make a living doing this. I'm less ambitious in terms of my career perhaps, but, hey, I worked really hard for a while when I was young, and I don't think I could do that on into my 50s.

"What I'm most ambitious about is the quality of my songs and what I have to say.... I hope that the new album will show the growth that I've been striving for. I've never trusted chart positions and what magazines you're on the cover of as an indication of your creative achievement."

Jackson Browne, with Keb' Mo', Saturday at the Orpheum Theatre, 842 S. Broadway, L.A., 8 p.m. $45. (213) 239-0939.

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