???Clifford Brown was a genius,??? Benny Golson simply stated just after the great jazz trumpeter??™s passing in 1956 (Catalano 186). Brown was an unconventionally brilliant, young, and determined force in the bebop scene, even among his ever-practicing contemporaries, and became one of the greatest trumpeters in jazz history. In addition, he composed and arranged many pieces, including the self-defining Sandu.
Born in Wilmington, Delaware, on October 30th, 1930, (Olsen) Brown was subjected immediately to an unusually cultured life. Although his family had little money, the East Side of Wilmington, where the Brown family resided, was cultured. There was always talk at the dinner table of politics, art, and most of all, music. His father, Joe Brown, was not trained in music, but still enjoyed experimenting with the many instruments he had in his collection. One of these was a trumpet, which young Clifford would often try to acquire, usually knocking it off the high shelf on which it was perched. He desired to have the shiny instrument in his hands rather than play it (Catalano 15). As Clifford matured, however, he began playing the trumpet in junior high school. By the time he met his first real influence in his junior year of high school, he had progressed notably as a trumpeter and had serious musical interest. That influence was Boysie Lowery, a band leader in the Philadelphia scene. Fifteen years Brown??™s elder, he was the first to teach Brown and a number of other students jazz elements such as changes, jazz phrasing, and how to ???hear??? the changes and improvise on what they heard (Catalano 18). At about the same time, a new band teacher came to Howard Hughes, named Harry Andrews. Andrews was a veteran of the war who had led a military band and played trumpet. Under his tutelage, the young Brown worked heavily on his embouchure and technical elements of the instrument, developing the warm, full timbre he became known for (Catalano 22). In addition, Andrews taught Brown more than just trumpet. If you arrived late to his class, your grade would be docked appropriately. Brown was known in later life to always arrive on time for gigs and rehearsals, an unusual trait in the industry (Catalano 131). Brown and Andrews became very close, and later in life, Brown was known to stop by his old high school and catch up with his first true mentor.
In his upperclassman years in high school, Brown was known to lead jam sessions at his home as well as at the YMCA just a few blocks from his house. He and a few friends would play all day long, constantly improving their individual playing. Between these jam sessions, his private study, marching band, and the constant private practicing, Brown almost always had his horn in hand. The only time he didn??™t was in school and in church. While his sisters carried the real intellectual gift, the ???Brown boys??? were also quite intelligent. All of the family graduated high school with honors and attended some sort of college, some of them continuing through graduate school. The family also had strong Methodist beliefs, attending church every week, and Joe Brown and his wife never drank. This probably is the influence which kept Clifford so ???clean??? later in life (Catalano 21).
As a senior in high school, Brown started to make a name for himself. Lowery, his jazz instructor, started bragging about him to jazz friends. They were all amazed at the tone this seventeen-year-old possessed, with good reason. Marcus Belgrave, one of Clifford??™s friends, commented that whenever Clifford practiced, it was all perfectly laid out. He wrote everything down, followed a routine, and played all the licks and riffs through all 12 keys. This, in addition to his heavy study on embouchure, led to technical and tonal success for Brown. On one of his trips to Philadelphia during high school, Brown happened to be on stage playing at a club before Fats arrived. When he did arrive, he heard Brown??™s playing, and joined him on stage. After playing the first solo as the leader, he stepped back and listened to Brown, and then applauded. This was the start of a mutual respect and affection between the two trumpeters. In a 1954 Down Beat interview, Brown was asked, ???Who are your favorite performers on your instrument??? He only answered with one name: Fats Navarro (Catalano 33).
After graduating from high school, Clifford began to make trips to Philadelphia, about 5 hours away. He continued gigging in the Wilmington area, as well. In the fall of 1948, Brown entered Delaware State College in Dover to study mathematics, which he was gifted in in high school. But this did not stop Brown from continuing his trumpet playing. Every weekend he was seen leaving campus for Philadelphia, now only ninety minutes away. He did not develop as a musician in college, but certainly progressed on those weekends in Philadelphia. In the forties, Philadelphia was second only to New York as a center for bebop jazz (Catalano 32). In 1949, Brown returned home to Wilmington for a big event- Dizzy was going to be in town. He and a few friends walked to the club, and soon learned that Dizzy??™s second trumpeter was nowhere to be found. Brown??™s friends convinced the ever-modest Clifford to the bandstand. After his first solo, Gillespie shouted, ???Where did this guy come from??? over the roaring crowd. He allowed Brown to perform the feature solo on the jazz ballad, ???I Can??™t Get Started,??? and afterwards, took him aside, and urged him to commit himself to jazz. This influenced Brown to forget about a career in mathematics. Soon after, he transferred to Maryland State College, which had an excellent music program, and continued his gigging there and in Philadelphia. He and a few other students formed a band which started playing all over the state. But tragically, he and other members were part of a devastating auto accident, which left the band in pieces and Brown in a body cast (Catalano 45).
This led to a painful eighteen month recovery for Brown. About a year into the recovery, he was strong enough to move his limbs, but he could not hold up his trumpet, so a piano was brought to his bedside. He had always had a passion for piano and arranging music, and was able to continue this even during recovery. Finally, he began playing again, which started with months of intense practice getting his embouchure back. He could be heard all day practicing from his bed for weeks before he got up and started moving (Down Beat). When he did, he joined a Rhythm and Blues traveling band, the Blue Flames, and performed with them for sixteen months. He signed with Blue Note at this time, and made his first record at age twenty-two in New York with Lou Donaldson. He continued making records with other greats such as J.J. Johnson and soon joined Lionel Hampton??™s band. The band took a tour through Europe, during which many of the group snuck out to European recording studios such as Verve and made records. This is the first time Brown has been recorded as a leader, with the Clifford Brown sextet, quintet, and octet, depending on how many of his band members snuck away from Hampton, who had forbidden any recording while in Europe. Because of this, as well as the Blue Note recordings, he returned to the U.S. a jazz star (Down Beat). He joined a band Art Blakey was forming which included his old friend Lou Donaldson and Horace Silver. After performing with them for some time, the group abruptly disbanded due to poor management by Blakey in early 1954 (Catalano 108). Around this time, Max Roach, arguably the best bebop drummer of the time, was looking to start a new group. He had heard Brown on an old J.J. Johnson recording, and thought to call him up, then flew to New York to meet him. Immediately, Brown, flattered at the opportunity of playing with Roach, flew back to California with him. Richie Powell and other performers joined, and they all came together to advance the hard bop genre with inventive soloing and new compositions. This group, along with another powerhouse, Sonny Rollins later on, brought hard bop to its peak. This lasted for two years, touring and performing around the country, until it was tragically cut short in 1956. On a rainy night, Brown, Powell, and his wife Nancy were on a trip to Chicago when their car lost control, hit the guardrail, jumped the barrier, and rolled down a seventy-five foot embankment, instantly killing them all (Schudel). The jazz world went into deep mourning. At age twenty-six, one of the greatest trumpet players ever known was taken after only four years of performance. This was especially tragic because of Brown??™s behavior: he broke the jazz paradigm of drugs and alcohol that Charlie Parker and others had set (Down Beat). He showed that a musician could lead a clean life and still be a jazz great. Sonny Rollins said perfectly what can be said for all modern jazz performers: ???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??? (Olsen). And still, this great trumpeter and beautiful person was taken at a young age, a tragedy which is nearly unparalleled for the jazz world even today (Schudel).
One of Brown??™s many compositions is entitled Sandu. The reason I chose this piece is because it perfectly demonstrates Clifford Brown??™s signature style of creative improvisation with long phrases, with a mellow, rich sound in the middle of the staff. This is part of the Study in Brown album, released by EmArcy Records in 1955, and recorded between February 23rd and 25th in New York City (Catalano 162). Appearing on this recording are Brown, Max Roach, pianist Richie Powell, tenor Harold Land, and bassist George Morrow, all forming the Clifford Brown and Max Roach quintet. Sandu is a composition of Brown??™s, essentially a simple head on top of a blues form, performed in medium but driving swing. Land and Brown play the head in unison, creating a seductive mellow tone. Underneath are Powell lightly comping, accenting the changes after each short phrase of the head, as well as Morrow providing a driving but relaxed walk and Roach sweetly tapping the hi-hat to create a perfect base rhythm over which the head flows. A break in the opening pickup into the top each time through provides a dramatic entry for the horns, and the support comes back in perfectly in time. This is most notable in the break before Brown??™s solo, in which he improvises a series of triplets in the middle of the staff in his usual creative fashion, with excellent tone quality. As soon as the first change comes and rhythm section comes back in, he plays an A, the third of the chord, to establish the change, but quickly plays a quiet, short lick in the lower range of the instrument, which is in a way soothing to his excited entry. Again, though, he brings excitement into the solo by playing slurred sixteenth notes upwards, building tension, until he plays a flowing lick back down, and then repeats it with another similar lick. This, performed by any other bebop trumpeter, would have been tinny, quick, and without tone quality, but Brown maintains the mellow sound even in these fast licks, truly an indication of his mastery of tone quality on the trumpet. Similarly, he then plays a short riff, playing a flat third in the major chord to create tension and interest, executed at just the right time. The excitement builds as e comes down from this tension and resolves it, then immediately springs into another upward progression, landing again on the flat third and then exhibiting mastery of the blues as he plays a lick that gets quite out of the changes, but quickly is resolved, to the pleasure of the listener. He then finishes up the solo with a beautiful up-and-down phrase, exhibiting the long-phrased solos he was known for. The entire solo comes off flawlessly and seemingly with ease. It is relaxing to listen to, due to Brown??™s use of the middle of the staff, but exciting because of his creativity with the changes and his improvisational genius. This was recorded at the peak of his career, and this style has become an inspiration for every modern trumpet player, including Wynton Marsalis, Arturo Sandoval, Nicolas Payon, et al (Schudel). No other performer had attained such smooth, mellow sounds while still performing exciting bebop solos, and this, along with the clean life he led, is his innovation and contribution in jazz (Down Beat). Truly, Clifford Brown was one of the best trumpeters the world has ever seen, and the biggest tragedy to ever come to the jazz world.
“A Tribute To Brownie.” Down Beat 22 Aug. 1956. 6 Nov. 2008
Catalano, Nick. Clifford Brown: The Life and Art of the Legendary Jazz Trumpeter. New York: Oxford
University Press, 2000.
Schudel, Matt. “50 Years Later, Unmuted Awe for Clifford Brown.” Washington Post 26 June 2006. 6
Olsen, Eric B. “Clifford Brown.” The Hard Bop Homepage. 2006. 6 Nov. 2008