As a jazz saxophonist, Ezra Brown has used his instrument to croon out tunes all around the world from Singapore to the Maldives, but he admits that there is something about Jackson, Mississippi, that feels like home.
Growing up in Florence, South Carolina, Brown was musically influenced by his parents and grandmother, and his high school band was known as the “Little Sonic Boom of the South.” So it’s no surprise that he committed to going to Jackson State University to study Jazz.
“Jazz was my life,” expressed Brown. “Thirty years ago, I came to Jackson, Mississippi, on a Greyhound bus. Dr. Russell Thomas picked me up from the bus station. I didn’t know anything about Jackson, MS. But from that day forward, that would change. I got to know so much about Jackson that it transformed my life. Everywhere I go, all over the world, everybody thinks this is my hometown.”
Brown’s music career would begin while playing saxophone at College Hill Baptist Church in Jackson. It was his work study assignment so that he could supplement the funds he received there with his scholarship at JSU. “That’s where I met all of these great people, learning a lot of songs. That same church was where I had my first rehearsal with my first tour band with Dorothy Moore,” he said.
Brown toured with beloved Jackson Blues artist Dorothy Moore when he was 18. “We played in the Chitlin’ Circuit. I was too young to go in the club so I had to stay on the tour bus until it was time to play.”
Brown also played in the Jackson Horns, which recorded with local and national Blues artists like Willie Clayton and Denise LaSalle. “Being here with legends everyday – seeing legends – it changes your life. The dirt is different [in Jackson]. I’m going to even say the water is different,” Brown joked.
“But it produces legends,” he continued. “We’re the next generation. We’re the people that ya’ll have prayed about, dreamed about, and had church meetings about wanting the city to change. We are those people. We can’t do it alone,” Brown said as he referenced Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba.
Brown, also known for Seven – his entrepreneurial endeavor in the early 2000s – has opened up a coffee and bubble tea shop in Jackson’s Fondren area called Soulé. It is his second flagship location – the first is in South Carolina – and another location will be opening up next month in the downtown Regions Bank building. There are also two food trucks that will begin serving various beverages throughout the city, especially in West and South Jackson, and the tri-county area within the next few weeks.
While presenting a certificate to Brown during the grand opening on October 6, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said, “When we have investment in our community, we’re grateful. We want a reciprocal relationship with all of our business investors. Not only do we patron[ize] your establishment and make sure that we allow you to see good profit here but that you sow back into the community [as well]. I have no doubt whatsoever that you would do that.
“We thank him for his commitment to the city of Jackson. We’re grateful to have something that adds a greater sense of place to our city – an experience where people can come and enjoy bubble tea and enjoy the atmosphere of Fondren,” he said.
District 4 Hinds County Supervisor Vern Gavin was also a taste tester for Jackson’s new beverage hotspot. “It’s a pleasure to have a new establishment coming into Hinds County. We are pledging to try to improve the socio-economic conditions for Hinds County and we’re glad to see this as a new entity that will help us in our efforts,” he said.
“I’m here in the capacity of coffee and music to build a community,” Brown said. “We may be one of the most polarized states in the U.S. But right here in this microcosm, we’re changing the world right here, one drink at a time. We’re here to make change. It is on the shoulders of each and every one of you. This city will change because it’s changed my life so much that I’m in Singapore talking about Jackson, MS. And there are many people coming behind me that will want to open a business right here because it’s something special in the dirt. It’s something special in the people here. I’m committed.”
Lumumba recalled his long relationship with Brown. “I’ve known Ezra since I was a young child. We went to the same church and Ezra has given his gifts and abilities to the city of Jackson in so many ways over the years. Whether it’s his musical gifts, whether it was his investment in Seven years ago, everything he touches turns to gold.”
To hear more about Soulé, check out the Jackson Advocate’s podcast, “Volume”, on Spotify.