CLIFFORD BROWN / “Clifford Brown Mixtape”
In 1950 he was in a car accident that left him hospitalized for approximately a year. Somehow, he not only recovered but also found the fortitude to re-ignite a musical career that had barely gotten started, an undertaking that meant he would spend many hours on the road, literally driving from city to city.
Clifford Brown was born October 30, 1930 in Wilmington, Delaware. On June 26, 1956 Brownie died in a car crash on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Accompanying Brown in the car was pianist Richie Powell. Powell’s wife, Nancy, was driving. She also died in the accident.
Within a span of not quite five full years Clifford Brown went from a patient in intensive care to ascendancy as the future of jazz trumpet—that’s how most people following the jazz scene assessed Brownie. He was supposed to be next. He had already stood most critics on their collective ear. Among the musicians, the sober, quiet, well-mannered Clliford Brown was regarded as a saint—not a square. A saint.
He truly had the spirit of the music. Could play with fire or, on the other hand, be cool like spring mountain water—whatever was appropriate for the occasion. Five years. He had an unrivaled technical command of the trumpet, a seemingly boundless imagination, and a beautiful personality. So imagine, it had been just a little over a year since Bird’s passed on March 12, 1955 and now Brownie too was gone. It was too much. Nineteen fifty-nine (the year of jazz’s creative rebirth) could not get here soon enough.
In 1954 Brownie and drummer Max Roach assembled the major jazz quintet of the early fifties. While not as popular as the Modern Jazz Quartet or even The Miles Davis Quintet of the Prestige years, the Brown/Roach combination was considered the most progressive quintet of its era, which was short-lived but nonetheless influential. They were both a blow the walls down, hot-blooded crew and a super punctilious ensemble playing fiendishly difficult arrangements at near impossible speeds.
The band members were Sonny Rollins on tenor (Sonny replaced Harold Land who had held the tenor spot previously), Clifford on trumpet, Richie Powell on piano, Max Roach on drums and William Morrow on bass.
So, here is a Mixtape of Clifford Brown music, along with some words from those who knew him. Some of this reads like a melodramatic Hollywood B-movie, but it’s all true. Some of the music sounds like it could have been recorded yesterday but it’s all over fifty years old.
Please take a moment and listen—even if you don’t know much about jazz. Just listen. Listen to Brownie.
…Music was his first love, I was his second love and math was his third. …he used to play all kinds of mathematical games.
He was a wizard with figures and numbers. He played chess well and he played pool like he was going insane. But his family had always been very competitive with pool at home, so he played pool all of the time. And he liked doughnuts. He used to tell me that as a child there was never enough money to have more than one doughnut per person, because he came from a large family and when we would go anywhere near a doughnut shop, he would buy dozens. And they would get stale before he could eat them all. But he would insist on having these doughnuts.
…there was only one time when I didn’t travel with him. I had asked his permission to bring the baby home, because our child had been born by then, and I had not been home; our friends and relatives had not seen our kid.
Clifford told me okay because [they] were going to go to West Virginia and then Chicago. So he put us on a plane and, of course, that’s when he got killed.
In fact, I was here with Harold Land and his wife Lydia on my birthday again, June 26; they were giving me a birthday party I had had a strange feeling, so I went over to my Mom’s house, to check on the baby and while I was there the telephone rang: they thought it was my mother, and they told her that Cliff, the baby and I had all been killed in an accident. Of course, it wasn’t that way at all, it was Richard Powell and his wife who were in the car.
But everybody assumed it was us because we were always together.
We even planned the baby’s birth around when he wouldn’t be at work, you know? We always traveled with the baby even though he was so young, because Clifford insisted that we be a family all the time.
—Larue Brown Watson (Clifford’s wife, Larue and Clifford were married on Larue birthday, June 26, 1954, exactly two years before he was killed.)
“It was on the night of June 27, 1956. At that time I was playing in Dizzy Gillespie’s band, and that night we were on the stage of the Apollo Theatre in New York. The first show ended and we came off the stage. After the intermission, everyone was preparing to return to the stage. Suddenly, Walter Davis, Jr. ran on stage while crying, and said to everyone, `You heard? You heard? Brownie was killed yesterday (June 26, 1956).’
“Of course, no musicians walking on stage could believe it. Some covered their faces with their hands and said, `Oh no!’ Everyone couldn’t move with shock. With tears all over, Walter said, `Clifford Brown was killed in a car accident yesterday! Pianist Richie Powell and his wife also killed!’ Still I can’t believe it. I felt like almost fainted. That such a sweet guy should die in a car crash! That Richie Powell and his wife should die with him!
“Then the stage director shouted, `It’s time, everyone! Play!’ No one could do anything, although we took [our] seats, but of course we couldn’t play. Dizzy somehow encouraged us, and the curtain was raised. Many of the musicians were crying while playing, and the music tended to be cut off from time to time. I said to myself, `This is a nightmare! It’s a nightmare!’ And I tried to awaken from the nightmare. But the next morning I found Brownie’s death in the paper.
“For some time after that, all the musicians talked about was Clifford Brown.”
Clifford was a profound influence on my personal life. He showed me that it was possible to live a good, clean life and still be a good jazz musician.
—Sonny Rollins (the last saxophonist with the Brown-Roach Quintet)
Clifford “Brownie” Brown, a profound definition of Brown is beautiful.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
Clifford Brown Mixtape Playlist
Not much to say other than the usual admonition: follow your ears.
Oh, yeah, there is one other thing, actually two. That Clifford Brown/Sarah Vaughn record is the absolute pinnacle of modern jazz vocals (I believe next week I might do my top five modern jazz vocal recordings; look for it.) and the Brownie with strings album set the standard for subsequent jazz ballad with strings recordings, especially by trumpeters. I believe Brownie’s album was even more widely acclaimed than Bird with strings.
Unless you’re deep into jazz trumpet, you probably are not going to spring for the 10-CD- The Complete EmArcy Recordings, so here’s an introductory alternative.
Get to: The Definitive Clifford Brown.It’s got a little bit of everything and will give you very clear clues as to where you want to proceed from there.
OK, that’s it. Enjoy.
Except for the Art Blakey track, all selections are available on The Complete EmArcy Recordings
01 “Daahoud” - The Complete EmArcy Recordings
02 “Wee-Dot” - Art Blakey & Clifford Brown
03 “It Might as Well Be Spring”
04 “I Don’t Stand A Ghost Of A Chance”
05 “I Get A Kick Out Of You”
06 “Jim” - Clifford Brown with Sarah Vaughan
07 “April In Paris” - Clifford Brown with Sarah Vaughan
08 “September Song” - Clifford Brown with Sarah Vaughan
09 “Cherokee” -
10 “I’ll Remember April”
11 “Joy Spring”
12 “You Go to My Head”
13 “Blues Walk”
14 “What’s New” - Clifford Brown with Strings
15 “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” - Clifford Brown with Strings
16 “Willow Weep” - Clifford Brown with Strings
17 “Portrait Of Jenny” - Clifford Brown with Strings
18 “Stardust” - Clifford Brown with Strings
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