HE WAS ONE of the most influential blues and jazz performers of all time and the originator of cool jazz, a style that revolutionized the rhythm and blues genre at a time when it ruled the radio waves. But Tony Russell “Charles” Brown, born in Texas City on Sept. 13, 1922 (though some accounts say 1920), was introduced to music early and through tragedy.
His mother died when he was 6 months old, and his father was killed by a train in 1928, so Brown was reared by his grandmother, Swanee Simpson, in Galveston. Mrs. Simpson was a musician and choir director, and when Brown turned 10 she encouraged him to begin training in classical piano. He excelled at music; during high school at Galveston Central High, he formed a musical trio with two teachers who played after school and on weekends.
Brown was well-educated, a rarity among R