Joe Brazil (1927-2008)

Joe Brazil (Speaking)
Joe Brazil, January 3, 1967
Courtesy X (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Joseph Brazil was an American jazz saxophonist and educator born August 25, 1927 in Detroit, Michigan. He taught jazz at Garfield High School in Seattle, Washington, and co-founded the music curriculum at the University of Washington in the late 1960s. He also founded the Black Academy of Music in Seattle.

Growing up in Detroit, Brazil purchased a home in 1951 where he lived with his mother and brother. He built a bar in the basement and installed a baby grand piano on which he would play during his legendary jam sessions. Trumpeter Donald Byrd, saxophonist Sonny Red, pianist Barry Harris, bassist Doug Watkins, and drummer Frank Gant all played there. Pianist Alice Coltrane met her first husband John Coltrane in Joe’s basement.

Brazil moved to Seattle to work as a tool maker at the Boeing Company in 1961. In 1965 he recorded on flute with John Coltrane in Lynnwood, Washington. This recording was released as Om on the Pulse label.

Brazil, alongside bassist Chuck Metcalf, taught at Garfield High School beginning in 1968. In 1967 he established the Black Academy of Music with guitarist George Hurst. The academy’s faculty included trumpeter Floyd Standifer, saxophonist Jabo Ward, and bassist Milt Garred, and for the next twenty years, they taught a number of aspiring young jazz artists in the Seattle area.

Brazil became the center of controversy at the University of Washington, Seattle, when in 1976 he was denied tenure after becoming the first African American hired. The Black Student Union (BSU) at the University of Washington demanded that he be hired to teach in the university’s music department. Brazil had taught at the university from 1969 to 1976 but was denied tenure. The UW Black Student Union (BSU) protested and demanded that Brazil be tenured.  Nonetheless, the Music Department stood by its decision and the university administration supported the department. Brazil left the university and focused his energy on the Black Academy of Music.

Joe Brazil died in Seattle on August 6, 2008. He was eighty.