Leon “Kid Chocolate” Brown has accomplished a lot at a relatively young age. Picking up the trumpet at the age of 9, he’s toured the world playing music since the age of 15. He’s won a Latin Billboard Award, been nominated for two Grammy Awards, and won a Grammy in 2010. He’s recorded with such acclaimed artists as Irvin Mayfield and Jill Scott, and he plays the trumpet for Treme character Delmond Lambreaux (Rob Brown).
Brown comes from some humble roots, though, and he came by his choice of instrument in an unusual way. “My mother took me to Maw Maw and Pop’s house, and after a little rummaging, we came up with a clarinet and a cornet,” he says. “My mother told me that whichever is the cheapest to repair, that is the instrument you’ll play.”
Even after his career took off, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Kid Chocolate. After Katrina, he had a scare with Bell’s palsy—a form of facial paralysis. For someone who makes a living playing a trumpet, it’s a terrifying condition. “I almost went crazy,” he says. “I woke up one morning and couldn’t move the right side of my face.” Calling around to cancel all his upcoming performances was agony until he called his friend Irvin Mayfield, with whom he was supposed to go on tour. “He said, ‘Well, I guess you’ll just be a singing, tambourine-playin’ mother—‘til you can play your horn again.’” Mayfield’s kindness and the success of the tour carried Brown until he recovered.
These days, in addition to a weekly gig at Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse, Brown is on the faculty at the Don Jamison Heritage School of Music. He enjoys his time working with his lucky students.
“There’s nothing like when you’ve been explaining the same thing over and over for weeks and weeks, and then, a student finally has that ‘a-ha’ moment. Now they’re ready to show that they’ve really learned, because true learning is when you begin to do what you know.”
Leon “Kid Chocolate” Brown plays Jazz Fest on Thursday, May 3 at 4:30 p.m. in the People’s Health Economy Hall Tent.