If there is one consistent thread that ties together Justin Brown’s life since age 8, it would be music. First inspired at that age by his Aunt Annie during a family vacation on Prince Edward Island, Canada, Justin returned home and asked for piano lessons and received them from the nuns at school.
He became just the right age to get one of the newly invented “portable keyboards”. Following a 6-month stint of pop theory lessons (at the kitchen table!), Justin was all of a sudden in demand as a keyboard player with gear! He gigged with various local bands – all members older than him – playing frat parties, festivals and one-night bar gigs – having aball!
Meeting the love of his life, Christyl, at age 18 while attending college in Florida, the two of them got married and that led playing 6-nights a week in Wisconsin and the start of their family of five. Through it all, every other job around helped the cause (bartending, insurance, auto parts - you name it!).
It was at this point that Christyl start singing, building on her high school chorale experience. She pulled from Patsy Cline, Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt, Rita Coolidge. This led to the formation of “Wild Roses” and another summer house band gig at “The Playpen”, a hot spot in Ft. Lauderdale. “Wild Roses” then hit the road and ended up living all together on a farm outside of Pittsburgh and doing local gigs.
Following the musical thread, Justin continued teaching improvisation and opening a formal teaching studio in Dormont. That studio, with added partners, Barney Lee and Henry Yoder, became AirCraft Recording Studios in the 80’s. It grew to house staff engineers, producers, jingle production, graphics, record labels, publishing house and media duplication. AirCraft went on for years pulling Justin away from “live” performing to studio work.
Justin and Christyl produced two of their own albums during this season entitled “Time Signatures, Volume One & Two”. Justin was also able to use the music medium to bring aid to the unemployed steel workers in the 80’s. He collaborated with KDKA-TV and released “Steel Mill Blues” to bring exposure and $84,000 in financial aid to unemployed steel workers and their families. He continued this success in fundraising and need awareness efforts with “Bundle Them Up” for WTAE to benefit children.
Returning to the “live” stage, Justin launched out as a solo pianist and landed a gig as the first performing artist at Zelda’s Greenhouse in Oakland. At the same time he joined with Barney Lee in a band called “GoodStuff” and a held a summer house band gig at “The Decade”, also in Oakland. “The Decade” caught fire and burned to the ground in 1995 - on the night “GoodStuff” was booked to play!
Disappointed with the instability of bar bands, the solo route looked like the only viable option. Enter stage left, Divine Providence! The Grand Course opens up a new restaurant in Station Square – with a beautiful grand piano bar in the Gandy Dancer Saloon. Three years later after performing 6-nights a week from 9pm to 1am, Justin left and brought with him his first solo
album, “All Of Me”. The 2-track “live” album was recorded in one session on a 9’ grand at Audio Innovators in town. The two takes were Side One and Side Two in front of 40 close friends and fans from The Gandy Dancer.
Hyatt Hotel bought Justin’s contract to feature him at the newly designed “Lillys, a Piano Lounge”. After two years there, the private gig opportunities were strong enough to open up the calendar to them and more solo work. During these same years, Justin was teaching improvisation to adults by providing lessons in their home. Christyl rejoined Justin on stage to make their new duo. Breaking into the county club circuits mixed in with some international resort gigs such as Club Med, the duo was a compact, strong unit that kept busy making music while still raising their family – and this continues today. As a solo or a duo, they entertain in local retirement and nursing centers.
Justin’s business and technology sense led him to a career with Apple and Computerm. In 2001, Justin entered the nonprofit community with The Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation and currently, The Education Partnership. (www.theeducationpartnership.org) Justin, a native of Pittsburgh and resides in Dormont.