Clifford Brown

Clifford Brown
History and Peer Commentary

NOTE - There are several other Clifford Brown articles available here.

The following are a series of quotes on the life and death of jazz trumpeter Clifford Brown from prominent jazz musicians and historians.

To date, these quotes have been obtained exclusively from liner notes, and are reproduced without permission.

Leonard Feather

"Born Oct. 30, 1930, in Wilmington, Del., he received his first trumpet from his father on entering senior high school in 1945 and joined the school band shortly afterward. It was not until a year or so later that the mysterious world of jazz chord changes and improvisation began to shed its veil for Brownie. A talented musician and jazz enthusiast named Robert Lowery was credited by Brownie for the unveiling.

"The teen-aged trumpeted began playing gigs in Philadelphia on graduating in 1948. That same year, he entered Deleware State College on a music scholarship, but there was one slight snag; the college happened to be momentarily short of a music department.

"Brownie remained there a year later anyway, majoring in mathematics, and taking up a little spare time by playing some Philadelphia dates with such preeminent bop figures as Kenny Dorham, Max Roach, J. J. Johnson and Fats Navarro. He acquired considerable inspiration and encouragement from Navarro, who was greatly impressed by the youngster's potentialities.

"After the year at Delaware State, Brownie had a chance to enter a college that did boast a good music program, namely Maryland State. They also had a good 16-piece band, and he learned a lot about both playing and arranging until one evil evening in June 1950, when, on his way home from a gig, he was involved in the first of three automibile accidents, the last of which was to prove fatal.

"For a whole year in 1950-51, Clifford Brown had plenty of opportunity for contemplation but precious little for improving his lip. It took just about a year, plus some verbal encouragement from Dizzy Gillespie, to set him back on the path from which he had been so rudely sideswiped.

"He had his own group in Philly for a while, then joined the Chris Powell combo, with which he was working at Cafe Society when the [6/9/53] date with Lou Donaldson was cut. There followed a stint with Tadd Dameron in Atlantic City, after which he joined Lionel Hampton, touring Europe with him until the fall of 1953. In 1954 Brownie won the Down Beat critics' poll as the new star of the year. Moving out to California, he formed an alliance with Max Roach that was to last until death broke up the team."

Liner notes, Memorial Album (Blue Note BST 81526)

Bennie Golson

"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 are 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."

Liner notes, Jams 2 (EmArcy 195 J 2)

Quincy Jones

"Clifford's self-assuredness in his playing reflected the mind and soul of a blossoming young artist who would have rightfully taken his place next to Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and other leaders in jazz. The record companies owe it to the future of jazz to make every possible fragment of the beautiful musical gifts Clifford gave the world with unbounded love."

Liner notes, Jams 2 (EmArcy 195 J 2)

Larue Brown Watson

"Clifford idolized Fats Navarro. That was his heart. And Dizzy was like a father to him; and Harry James. It tickled me, when I read that Blindfold Test [Leonard Feather] gave Clifford back then, that he didn't recognize Harry James. And he liked Rafael Mendez, who had a music book out, with which Clifford would practice by the hour.

"He was so well-rounded in all music. He liked Miles, Trane -- who was very young then -- and Louis Armstrong, and Lee Morgan, who spent alot of time with Clifford in Philly. Eric Dolphy was another good friend of ours.

"Music was his first love; I was his second, and math was his third. He was a wizard with figures and numbers; he used to play all kinds of mathematical games. He played chess well, and he played pool like crazy -- his family had always been very competitive with pool at home.

"He told me once that as a child he loved doughnuts, but there was never enough money for more than one a person, because he came from a large family. So whenever we were near a doughnut shop, he would by dozens -- they would get stale before he could eat them all.

"There was only one time I didn't travel with him. Our child, Clifford Jr., had been born, and I hadn't taken him home yet to see the family. So Clifford said okay, and he put us on the plane; and of course that was when he was in the car accident and was killed. It was our second wedding anniversary and my 22nd birthday."

Liner notes, The Paris Collection Vol. 2 (Inner City IC 7011)

Harold Land

"Clifford Brown was a very beautiful person. He had a very warm personality and usually seemed so relaxed it made me relaxed to be around him. In my opinion Brownie had a very even temperament, if that's the best way to describe it, and a kind of wisdom or knowledge of himself and those around him, and of life in general, that one associates with someone quite a bit older than he was at the time. And to me these same qualities were evident when he expressed himself through his instrument. I have had moer than one talented musician say to me, referring to Brownie, that he played his instrument like a young old man! And in each instance I'm sure they meant this statement to be an extremely beautiful compliment, that a man so young in years could acquire such command, depth, and broad musical scope in such a relatively short span of time. Playing with the fire and creativeness of a young man with the depth, tenderness, and insight into past, present, and future of an older man."

Liner notes, Clifford Brown in Paris (Prestige PR 24020)

Michael Cuscuna

"Clifford Brown was certainly a master and a major link in the history of the trumpet. This instrument has always had two kinds of stars; those who advance the mainstream evolution of the instrument and those who are of such unique proportions that they remain phenomena unto themselves with prehaps a few disciples. Miles Davis is indicative of the latter, but Brown is certainly a prime example of the former. Without Brownie, it would be hard to imagine the existence of Lee Morgan or Freddie Hubbard or Booker Little or Woody Shaw or Wynton Marsalis."

Liner notes, Alternate Takes (Blue Note BST 84428)

NOTE - There are several other Clifford Brown articles available here.

Clifford Brown / History and Peer Commentary
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