Thursday, April 29, 2021

Clifford Brown Remembered by Gordon Jack

 © Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Gordon Jack is a frequent contributor to the Jazz Journal and a very generous friend in allowing JazzProfiles to re-publish his discerning and well-researched writings on various topics about Jazz and its makers.

Gordon is the author of Fifties Jazz Talk An Oral Retrospective and he also developed the Gerry Mulligan discography in Raymond Horricks’ book Gerry Mulligan’s Ark.

The following article was published in the April 7, 15 and 21, 2021 editions of Jazz Journal. 

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© -Gordon Jack/JazzJournal, copyright protected; all rights reserved; used with the author’s permission.

“When Dizzy Gillespie heard that Clifford Brown had been killed in a 1956 car accident his shocked reaction became an emotional epitaph, “Jazz was dealt a lethal blow by the death of Clifford Brown…there can be no replacement for his artistry”. At the age of 25 he had become not only one of the finest of all post-war jazz trumpeters but also the co-leader with Max Roach of a quintet that was hugely influential on the emerging hard bop school.

He was born in Wilmington, Delaware on 30 October 1930 into a very close family of eight children who were all encouraged musically by their father. He kept a selection of instruments around the house and when Clifford was about twelve he asked to play the trumpet apparently taking to it “Like a fish to water”. Around this time the family listened to the popular bands of the day on the radio like Lionel Hampton, Jimmie Lunceford and Fletcher Henderson. He benefited from lessons with the celebrated Robert Lowery whose other students over the years included Ernie Watts, Lem Winchester and Marcus Belgrave. A private recording of Brownie playing Ornithology in a duet with his teacher around 1949/1950 has survived representing his earliest recorded solo.  “He really knew what he wanted to do…all he needed was the right person and I think I was the one at the time” Lowery told Phil Schaap.

He was already aware of polytonality and Lowery encouraged him to learn the piano, an instrument he eventually became very proficient on. Precociously talented at just about everything he began a life-long love of chess in his mid-teens. He also excelled at pool and table-tennis. When he was fifteen he attended Howard High School where he fell under the guidance of Harry Andrews who taught him from the famous Arban Method for Trumpet. Clifford played in the High School band there marching on the field before football games and also at parades in Wilmington. 

In 1948 he matriculated at Delaware State College where he was known as “The Brain” (maths was his major). In the late forties he started visiting jazz clubs in Philadelphia which is where he met Red Rodney who told Mark Gardener, “I saw great promise in him when he was fifteen or sixteen years old. Even then he sounded very much like Fats”. Navarro was certainly an early influence and although there was a seven year difference in their ages they became close friends. Dizzy Gillespie of course was very important too as was Harry James. In 1956 though when Leonard Feather published a poll for musicians to nominate their favourites Brownie voted for one name on trumpet – Dizzy Gillespie. Billy Root was someone else who was very impressed with the young trumpeter and a few years before he died in Las Vegas he told me, “I often played with Clifford and I loved him. I never met a nicer person. He was just superb in every way and after Dizzy he was my favourite. He came in one night when Bird was at the Blue Note and Charlie got him up on the bandstand. Brownie was hiding behind the big upright piano and Bird said ‘Come out front with me man, I don’t want you back there’”. In those early years in Philadelphia he also got to play with John Coles, Benny Golson and Miles Davis at local Elk Lodges. 

In 1949 Dizzy Gillespie brought his exciting big band to Wilmington for a booking at the Odd Fellows Temple which of course was packed with enthusiasts. Just before curtain-up it became known that Benny Harris could not be found. Robert Lowery who was in the audience informed Gillespie that there was a ready-made replacement in the house. Clifford joined the trumpet section for the night and the leader was so impressed he gave him the solo on I Can’t Get Started. A year later while travelling to a booking he was involved in a serious car crash. The driver and his girl-friend were killed and Clifford was critically injured.  Bones were broken in both legs and the right side of his torso needed a full body cast to reset his frame. He spent several months in hospital and one of his visitors was Dizzy Gillespie. It was a year before he recovered and while hospitalised he received the shocking news that his friend Fats Navarro had died from TB and drug abuse. During a long convalescence he slowly rebuilt his embouchure while doing some local work on piano. According to Ken Vail’s Bird’s Diary, Charlie Parker was booked at the Club Harlem in Philadelphia in May 1951 when Benny Harris once again was missing in action. Brownie got a call from a friend and took over during Bird’s residency. The following week Harris re-joined the group for Parker’s gig in Buffalo, New York.  In November that year fellow Philadelphian Jimmy Heath invited Clifford to join a quintet he had formed with Dolo Coker, Sugie Rhodes, and Philly Joe Jones for a job at Spider Kelly’s. On one occasion the tenor-man remembered a very drunk woman coming up to the bandstand and saying to the trumpeter, “I don’t know what you’re playin’ but you’re playin’ the hell out of it!”

Late in 1951 Brown was in the audience when Chris Powell and the Blue Flames appeared at a Philadelphia dance venue. He was invited to sit-in and impressed the leader so much that he was asked to join the band on a permanent basis. Powell had a popular rhythm & blues band and he often featured jazz musicians like Osie Johnson, Jymie Merritt, Jimmy Heath, Jimmy Crawford, Buster Crawford and Philly Joe Jones. Clifford recorded his first commercially released solos on two calypsos with the band in Chicago in March 1952. Ida Red (dedicated to his current girl-friend) finds him in a cup mute and I Come From Jamaica has a confident open statement displaying exemplary control of the upper register. 


In 1953 he left the Blue Flames to try his luck in New York and in June that year he was selected for a Lou Donaldson Blue Note date. Clifford brought his own Brownie Speaks to the session and his three choruses on this up-tempo original feature some very well-articulated eighth note passages. Two days later he was in the studios again, this time for a Tadd Dameron nonet session for Prestige. The line-up included Idrees Sullieman, Benny Golson, Gigi Gryce and Philly Joe Jones. Philly JJ (based on Woody’n You) is essentially a drum feature but Brown is also heard in a powerful and inventive solo indicating that a new trumpet star had arrived on the New York scene. Later that month he teamed up with J.J. Johnson who was making a welcome return as a recording artist after a brief retirement. Brown’s outstanding performances here especially on Capri and Turnpike convinced Blue Note to award him a recording contract.

As soon as the J.J. session ended, he drove down to Atlantic City for a summer residency at the Paradise club with a Dameron group that included Johnny Coles, Cecil Payne, Gigi Gryce, Benny Golson, Percy Heath and Philly Joe Jones. They backed variety acts and also played for dancers and on one occasion Sammy Davis sat in on drums. At the end of the residency Quincy Jones arranged for Brown, Gryce and Golson to join Lionel Hampton’s band. The leader would often have his musicians marching up and down the aisles at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre and elsewhere playing The Saints, Flying Home and Hamp’s Boogie Woogie. Jones called Hampton “The first rock’n’roll bandleader” but his showmanship did not go down too well with some of the newer band members especially Brown and Gryce. Gigi and the trumpeter had similar life-styles which did not include drinking, smoking or taking drugs. They became very close and Gigi went on to become godfather to Clifford Brown Junior.

Just before the Hampton band took off on a three month tour of Europe, Clifford made his debut as a leader for the Blue Note label.  Gryce contributed Hymn Of The Orient which is taken faster than Stan Getz did when he introduced it a year earlier. Gigi also provided it with a new A section in the last chorus. Cherokee has him centre-stage throughout clearly delighting in Ray Noble’s sophisticated challenges in the tricky bridge passages. The track concludes with some exciting exchanges with Art Blakey. In contrast, Easy Living finds him at his most romantic and lyrical with a warm, broad sound especially in the lower register. 

Lionel Hampton, encouraged by his formidable wife Gladys, had a reputation of being less than generous with salaries but the lure of a 1953 European tour was enough for everyone to overcome their reservations about the money. With its JATP-like atmosphere of excitement the band proved to be hugely popular with European audiences. Standing ovations began at the first two concerts in Oslo on 6 September where 2000 people attended and apparently continued for the rest of the tour. The Hamptons made it clear that the musicians would not be able to record without the leader while they were in Europe and anyone found breaking this rule would be sent back to the States. Brown, Gryce and Jimmy Cleveland found that producers were desperate to record them and the musicians for their part were just as keen to supplement their band income. Lionel and Gladys tried but could not prevent clandestine recordings taking place. 

On 15 September having engineered an escape from their hotel by climbing down a fire escape after midnight, Brown, Quincy Jones and Art Farmer made their way to the Metronome studios in Stockholm for a record date with some of Sweden’s finest. Ake Persson, Arne Domnerus, Lars Gullin, Bengt Hallberg, Gunnar Johnson and Jack Noren  were on-hand to interpret Lover Come Back To Me, Falling In Love With Love and two of Jones’s new originals Stockholm Sweetnin’ and ‘Scuse These Blues. Clifford has a bright, sparkling chorus on Lover Come Back and ‘Scuse These Blues is notable for six choruses of exchanges between Brown and Farmer both in cup mutes. The tongue in cheek coda here is right out of the Dixieland play-book. During the tour Hampton often pitted the two trumpets against each other because as Farmer said, “Hamp goes for battles so this was his chance for a never-ending trumpet battle between us”.

While the band was in Paris, Vogue Records recorded Brown and Gryce on no less than six occasions from 28 September to 15 October. The first date featured Hampton sidemen together with French musicians like Fred Gerard, Henri Renaud and Pierre Michelot. Gryce’s extended feature for Clifford titled Brown Skins was an adventurous piece of writing. After a slow, dramatic opening the trumpeter takes off on a stunning up-tempo examination of Cherokee, one of his favourite sequences. In contrast Quincy Jones’s Keepin’ Up With Jonesy has a lightly swinging Count Basie feel with eloquent muted conversations between Brown and Art Farmer. Based on Moonglow it also features an outstanding contribution from Jimmy Cleveland. The following day Clifford’s sextet with Gryce, Jimmy Gourley, Renaud, Michelot and Jean-Louis Viale recorded the trumpeter’s Goofin’ With Me. Opening and closing with an eight bar riff it allows the principals to stretch out inventively on the changes of Indiana. Blue Concept is another fine original this time by Gryce with some impressive double-time passages in the second and third choruses by Clifford.

Hampton’s band then left for a series of concerts in Dusseldorf, Munich, Frankfurt, Hamburg and Berlin. On their return to Paris, Brown and Gryce resumed their sextet date with a selection of Gryce originals. His Minority was introduced here which was to become a jazz standard with performances by Art Farmer, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Lee Konitz among others. The attractive Salute To The Bandbox based on I’ll Remember April has the composer’s finest solo of the set with Clifford matching him all the way. The next day – 9 October – two big band titles were recorded featuring a mix of Hampton sidemen and French locals. Brown is only heard on Bum’s Rush, an extrovert Woody Herman-like chart by Quincy Jones.

Clifford’s last Paris date occurred a week later with Renaud, Michelot and Benny Bennett. Blue And Brown is all trumpet on a theme-less blues with a bridge. It Might As Well Be Spring is one of his most sensitive ballad readings with extensive use of his warm lower register. The up-tempo Song Is You finds him inspired by one of Jerome Kern’s loveliest melodies, resulting in five minutes of sheer beauty. Having played with Brown on most of the Paris dates Renaud said, “He possessed the highest qualities: a world of technique, a real trumpet sound fat and strong and a wonderful ear.” 

These hastily arranged European sessions established his reputation as a soloist of the first-rank which was acknowledged by DownBeat writers a year later who voted him the New Star on trumpet. By the time the Hampton band arrived back in NYC in November 1953 some of the sidemen threatened to go to the union over salary disputes. In a 1991 interview with Cadence magazine Jimmy Cleveland said “We got shafted with the money… (Hampton) would always do that”. For his part the leader intended filing charges with the AFM against the musicians for recordings made in Paris using arrangements from his library without permission.

Brownie began free-lancing around NYC before accepting an invitation to join Art Blakey for a two-week booking at Birdland with Horace Silver, Curly Russell and his friend Lou Donaldson. Although not billed as such this was the forerunner of the Jazz Messengers. On 21 February 1954 Blue Note was on hand to record the group performing bebop staples like Night In Tunisia, Wee-Dot, Now’s The Time and Confirmation. The prodigious Horace Silver contributed two outstanding originals to the date: Quicksilver based on Lover Come Back To Me which has humorous references to Donkey Serenade and Oh You Beautiful Doll and Split Kick, a clever contrafact of There Will Never Be Another You. Clifford’s ballad feature Once In A While is notable for the way he introduces waltz time during the bridge and also for his extended, brilliantly executed coda.

A couple of weeks after the Birdland date he received a telephone call from Max Roach which resulted in a complete change of direction for them both. Roach had been encouraged by Gene Norman to form his own group and with the promise of work from the promoter he invited Brown to fly out to Los Angeles and join him.  At the time Max was in the house-band at the Lighthouse in Los Angeles where he had a six month contract. He had taken over from Shelly Manne for the fifty-two week, five-nights a week gig but there was a clause in his contract committing him to finding a suitable replacement if he left. Stan Levey had just arrived back in town after Stan Kenton had temporarily disbanded so Max called him. After discussions with Howard Rumsey, Levey took over at a salary of $200.00 a week. 

Max and Brownie rented a two-bedroom apartment together which facilitated in-depth musical policy discussions as well as lengthy chess games which the trumpeter usually won. Sonny Stitt had travelled with Clifford from New York and the quintet’s first booking was at the California club on Santa Barbara Avenue owned by Gene Norman. Stitt only remained with the group for about six weeks. He was replaced by Teddy Edwards who with Carl Perkins and George Bledsoe appeared on the quintet’s first concert performance at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium on 13 July 1954. Only four titles were recorded but the date is notable for the trumpeter’s lengthy and inventive workout on Clifford’s Axe based on The Man I Love. Soon after this concert a Nat Hentoff feature in DownBeat was head-lined Clifford Brown-The New Dizzy. The quintet continued to evolve because two weeks after the Pasadena date Edwards, Perkins and Bledsoe left and were replaced by Harold Land, Richie Powell and George Morrow and this line-up remained together for the next year. Clifford told Nat Hentoff at the time, “One thing which has hurt small jazz units is the fact that bookers haven’t been sure they’d get the same personnel the next time they hired a unit. Max and I have had offers to headline as singles but unless they hire the whole unit we won’t take the job”. In May the quintet undertook a west coast tour promoted by Gene Norman that climaxed at the Shrine Auditorium in Hollywood on 31 August.

Just before signing an exclusive contract with Emarcy the trumpeter recorded one of the most unusual albums in his discography for Dick Bock of Pacific Jazz. The quintet had been appearing at the Tiffany club opposite Art Pepper and Jack Montrose. Bock decided to feature Brown and Roach with some of the best local musicians like Stu Williamson, Zoot Sims, Bob Gordon, Russ Freeman and Carson Smith.  Montrose was hired to write the arrangements but as he told me in a JJ interview, 

“The music was written with Max in mind but he got into a money hassle with Dick and bowed out at the last minute. Shelly Manne was called and he played just beautifully, bless his heart”. A few months earlier, Clifford had been in the trumpet section of Hampton’s barnstorming big band but on this occasion he embraced quintessential west-coast cool as if to the manner born. The tricky charts are immaculately performed by the hand-picked ensemble beginning with Clifford’s Tiny Kapers which becomes a fugue in Montrose’s hands. Blueberry Hill and Gone With The Wind were included apparently at Bock’s insistence although this did not please Brownie. Three more of his superior originals (Joy Spring, Daahud and Bones For Jones) were also recorded. These particular charts were reprised in 2002 on The Clifford Brown Project by the Mark Masters Ensemble and Clifford’s solos were transcribed for a four-piece trumpet section - Capri 74059-2.

The quintet’s first Emarcy recording took place on 2 August. Delilah opens with an extended ostinato which became one of the group’s favourite devices. Brownie clearly delights in the minor chord changes and the piece concludes with a masterful Roach solo mostly on mallets. The group throw-the-kitchen-sink at Parisian Thoroughfare’s opening vamp with hints of American In Paris, the Mareillaise, the Can-Can and assorted traffic noises. A few years after this recording I had some saxophone lessons from Wally Houser who eventually became an attorney for Ronnie Scott’s club. A fine alto player he wrote this chart minus the quotes together with Joy Spring as an exercise for me. Incidentally Manhattan Transfer recorded a vocalese version of Joy Spring with Jon Hendricks’s lyrics in 1985 (Atlantic 7-81266). There have been nearly 200 recordings of Jordu but the quintet’s version here is surely the definitive one. It is notable for the way the principals creatively negotiate their way through the intriguing bridge modulations in the solo choruses. The sleeve-note incorrectly states the group premiered it but composer Duke Jordan recorded it first seven months earlier. Sweet Clifford is a super-fast excursion on Sweet Georgia Brown. It becomes an extensive outing for Max Roach who demonstrates once again the art of creating a musical solo even at the ferocious tempo of 80 bars to the minute. I Get A Kick Out Of You is a thrilling exercise in mixed metres – 3/4 and 4/4 – originally introduced to the group by Sonny Stitt. 

A few days later Emarcy arranged two studio dates designed to replicate the jam-session formula popularised by JATP. Clifford and Max were featured with an assortment of stars from the label’s roster like Herb Geller, Joe Maini, Clark Terry, Maynard Ferguson and Dinah Washington. It has to be said that these over-long titles, some stretching to twenty minutes or more, fail to maintain interest. Brown and Roach were apparently uncomfortable and Mark Gardener has dismissed them as “Less than essential”.  In a JJ interview Herb Geller told me “The highlight for me was playing with Clifford who was a marvellous, extraordinary human being and musician. His sound was beautiful and soulful with such a sparkling way of playing”. 

After three months in California the quintet relocated to the east coast for an October engagement at the Blue Note in Philadelphia which was followed by two weeks at Detroit’s Crystal Lounge. Over the next month Emarcy embarked on three memorable albums placing the trumpeter in totally new and stimulating settings with Sarah Vaughan, Helen Merrill and a string date with Neal Hefti. Sarah Vaughan was accompanied by her regular trio of Jimmy Jones, Joe Benjamin and Roy Haynes. Herbie Mann and the inventive Paul Quinichette were on hand too. The Vice-Pres lives up to Bob Brookmeyer’s description of him as “The only fellow I know who can order a meal on tenor”. The string album recorded over three days in January 1955 became Clifford’s most popular session and influenced Wynton Marsalis to take up the trumpet. The spotlight here often shines on the rich timbre of his work in the lower register. My guess is that Hefti’s scores did not indicate exactly what, but where Clifford was to play. Sticking close to the melodies he was free to interpret these songbook classics in his own distinctive way making elaborate use of embellishments and delicate grace notes with a more pronounced use of vibrato than usual. 

A month later the quintet was back in the studio for a date that introduced some new material mostly by Clifford Brown: Gerkin For Perkin, Swingin’, George’s Dilemma, The Blues Walk and Sandu. Richie Powell contributed Jacqui and Gertrude’s Bounce while Harold Land weighed in with Land’s End. Swingin’ is an up tempo romp based on I Never Knew and is the sort of vehicle the group might have used as an opener on club dates. The atmospheric George’s Dilemma is a gem. Opening with a delicate four bar cymbal figure it leads to a bass ostinato which is repeated throughout the A section of the structure. The Afro-Cuban background inspires Clifford to one of his most melodic solos on record.  There is some fine Richie Powell in double-octaves here too. Roach’s apposite description of the piece as “A romance between Afro-Cuban and jazz rhythm” is right on the money. The cute Jacqui is notable for the charming and unexpected quote from Dizzy Gillespie’s Con Alma in the coda. Emarcy’s reissue incorrectly shows a 1956 date but it was actually recorded on 25 February 1955. The tenor-man’s Land’s End is an outstanding composition worthy of Benny Golson at his very best. Cherokee opens with one of the group’s trademark ostinatos humorously suggesting a connection between Native Americans and Ray Noble’s song-title. In these PC days it would probably be frowned on in some quarters. It had become one of the trumpeter’s specialities and he storms through blissfully unaware of the challenging 90 bars to the minute tempo. 

Joe Glaser was now handling the quintet’s bookings. Their popular recordings opened the door for regular club dates in cities like New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago. In July they performed a well-received set at the Newport Jazz Festival and the co-leaders also sat in for a chaotic Tea For Two with Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker and the Dave Brubeck quartet before a wildly enthusiastic audience - definitely one for completists though. Tired of being on the road and wanting to return to his family in Los Angeles, Harold Land decided to leave the quintet in October that year. He had this to say about playing with Brown, “It was a constant challenge to play alongside him. He was a very great artist”. Sonny Rollins was available and the new line-up opened at Philadelphia’s Showboat the following month. After one of their customary standing-room-only engagements at New York’s Basin Street the quintet made its recording debut on 4 January 1956. In a discography replete with Desert Island Disc material one of the titles from that session deserves special mention. Tadd Dameron was in the studio and he arranged What Is This Thing Called Love which finds the quintet at its most inventive and exciting best. In March they recorded five titles under Rollins’ leadership including two of his new originals – Pent-Up House and Valse Hot. Years later when Sonny was asked to name the three musicians he admired the most he replied “Lester Young, Charlie Parker and Clifford Brown”. 

Three months later on 26 June Clifford Brown’s career was brought to a sudden end when he was involved in a fatal car accident on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Driving with Nancy and Richie Powell to a booking at Chicago’s Blue Note their car hit a bridge abutment before rolling down a steep embankment. All three occupants were killed.

A good example of how his peers felt about him can be found in a musicians’ poll that Leonard Feather conducted in 1956. These are a just a few of the artists who favoured him with their vote: Harry Carney, Conte Candoli, Buck Clayton, Jimmy Cleveland, Miles Davis, Terry Gibbs, Dizzy Gillespie, Milt Jackson, J.J.Johnson, Quincy Jones, Oscar Peterson, Bud Powell, Max Roach, George Shearing and George Wallington.”

Selected Discography

Brownie – The Complete Emarcy Recordings Of Clifford Brown (10 CDs) – CD 838 306-2

Clifford Brown – Joy Spring (4 CDs) Properbox 86.

Clifford Brown – Jazz Immortal – MatchBall CD 48016.

Max Roach – Clifford Brown Quintet –The California Concerts –Fresh Sound FSRCD 377

Art Blakey-Clifford Brown –Immortal Concerts – Giants Of Jazz CD 53033

Recommended Reading

Clifford Brown – The Life and Art of the Legendary Jazz Trumpeter. Nick Catalano (Oxford University Press).

Rat Race Blues – The Musical Life Of Gigi Gryce. Noal Cohen & Michael Fitzgerald (Berkeley Hills Books).

In compiling this appreciation I would like to acknowledge the help received from John Bell, Bob Weir and the Jazz Institute in Darmstadt, Germany.

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