Full name John Benjamin Peabody Brown, this steady swing bassist is best known for his role in the combo of trumpeter Jonah Jones. He began as a violinist at 10 with a father whose interest in musical development seemed pragmatic; as soon as he could, the senior Brown hired the lad for his own band. He also proved his worth in other Dayton combos, taking advantage of gig potentials in a town that was once teeming with live music spots. Even so, Brown in his early '20s was ready for New York City, where he began playing both violin and banjo in Herbert Cowens' Royal Garden Orchestra. Beginning in 1932, Brown began collaborating with Sam Wooding and by the mid '30s had switched to upright bass as his main instrument.
Bandleader Snub Mosley featured Brown in his rhythm section in 1936, followed in 1938 by a three year stint behind the delightful violinist Stuff Smith. Backing up this particular instrument helped Brown develop the somewhat light sound that would work to the advantage of future boss Jones, one of the softer trumpeters on the scene. The bassist returned to the Mosley group but also played with Wilber de Paris and his mentor Cowens in the context of a New York theatre production entitled The Pirate. This ran through 1942. In the second half of the '40s, Brown made some superb music with pianist Claude Hopkins in both big band and quartet settings. Fletcher Henderson's very last band also featured Brown on bass, right up to the last gig in the winter of 1950.
In the early '50s Brown rejoined Mosley once again, this time on the mission of entertaining troops overseas. Hopkins put some dates on the calender during this period as well, and in 1954 it was swing ace Herman Chittison who enjoyed the propulsive yet deceptively feathery bass lines Brown was settling into in his mature epoch. Jones beckoned in 1955 and the match was perfect. Bandmates during more than a dozen years of steady gigging behind Jones included the fine pianist Hank Jones and drummer Harold Austin. Running a distant second to Louis Armstrong in popularity, Jones also managed to record fairly regularly, leaving behind a vivid account of Brown's playing style and apparently his final statement as well. The trumpeter backed off on combo dates in the late '60s and not much has been heard from this bassist since then. He seems to have slipped away as only someone with his name would be able to. In the meantime, a younger John Brown came along playing bass, and the two are often confused with each other.