Keith Brion occupies a most unique niche in music: he is a reincarnation (of sorts) of John Philip Sousa. Brion has combined his already considerable musical prowess with his knowledge, devotion, and resemblance to (with the help of some accoutrements) the Sousa of the 1920s. In this persona, Brion leads his New Sousa Band in an uncanny re-creation of a typical Sousa band concert of the era, with meticulous attention to the programming, interpretation, and even Sousa's mannerisms.
Brion was born in Philipsburg, Pennsylvania, on July 9, 1933. After studies in music education at West Chester State University and piccolo studies with John Krell, Brion taught in New Jersey while obtaining a master's degree at Rutgers University. During this time, he played piccolo in the New Jersey Symphony and formed the North Jersey Wind Symphony, as well as playing in park concerts and parades. As an orchestral conductor, Brion has led the Philadelphia, Boston Pops, and European orchestras, to name a few, but it is with the wind band that he is most at home. Among the most noted ensembles over which he has presided are the Goldman Band, the Allentown Band, and the United States Marine, Army, and Coast Guard bands. Brion, a former director of bands at Yale, took that institution's band to the Amsterdam Concertgebouw for a concert devoted to the works of Yale alumnus Charles Ives, solidifying his credentials as a fervent ambassador of American music.
In 1978, Brion first appeared in the persona of John Philip Sousa with the Yale Band. The following year, he organized and debuted his New Sousa Band. The ensemble continues to thrive, with the conductor himself stepping into the persona of the "March King." To complete the visual effect, Brion dons the black, gold-trimmed uniform, medals, pince-nez, and white gloves (celebrated for Sousa having never worn a pair twice), and he sports a well-cropped white moustache, as Sousa had removed his famous beard for good after World War I. This is only the start, for the younger man has scrupulously studied footage and written accounts to produce the style and mannerisms of the legendary bandsman. Equally authentic is the programming, featuring the many arrangements of classical fare by Sousa, period pieces, potpourris, solos, and the encores in the form of the famous marches. To this day, the ensemble is a crowd-pleaser. Sousa, who felt that entertaining the audience is paramount, would approve. Brion prefers to refer to his performances as "portrayal" rather than impersonation. Indeed, the thorough research, as well as the high musical quality of the concerts, places them on a higher plane than mimicry, and as bands have for decades now inclined toward arrangements of more current popular fare, it is through musicians such as Brion, and a younger generation of band musicians, that the music of Sousa (and Goldman, Alford, Fillmore, etc.) will remain present and vital. Brion has also edited editions of the band music of Sousa, Ives, Percy Grainger, and 19th century bandsman D.W. Reeves.
Brion has recorded almost exclusively with the Naxos label, which includes a series of "Music for Wind Band" by Sousa; volumes 18 and 19 of this series were released in 2019. Other notable albums by Brion are Grainger: Transcriptions for Wind Orchestra (2008) and In This Hid Clearing (2009).