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Clifford Brown
Written by Dan Miller

(1930-1956) Clifford Brown was a true virtuoso. His technical mastery of the trumpet combined with his exuberant, adventurous, swinging improvisations were the trademarks of his genius. His crisp articulations, boundless technique, limitless range and fat, burnished tone set the standard for years to come. Brown, clean living (no drugs or alcohol) and inspired by intellectual pursuits (chess and mathematics), brought joy to all those around him. Heavily influenced by Fats Navarro (cemented by meetings in 1949), Clifford's own personality began to quickly emerge. His development was interrupted by a devastating automobile accident, which sidelined him for a year (1950-1951).

His first recordings were with Chris Powell and his Blue Flames (Listen: I Come From Jamaica) in 1952. Debuting as a leader in the company of Lou Donaldson and Elmo Hope for Blue Note (June 9, 1953), Clifford's meticulous brilliance was already in full bloom (Listen: Brownie Speaks and Carvin' the Rock). Two days later (June 11, 1953) he recorded with Tadd Dameron (Listen: Philly J.J. and Choose Now). On June 22, 1953, Brown appeared on The Eminent J.J. Johnson Volume 1 (Listen: Turnpike and Get Happy) concluding a very busy month. A date with Art Blakey, Gigi Gryce and Charlie Rouse from August 28, 1953 continued his flirtation with the tune Cherokee.

Clifford joined the Lionel Hampton in August of 1953 and became a member of one of the all-time great trumpet sections (with Benny Bailey, Art Farmer and Walter Williams). Hamp's band traveled to Europe, and against the explicit orders of Lionel (claiming exclusivity), Clifford and many of his fellow band members (including Gigi Gryce) recorded some excellent sides for French Vouge/Prestige (Clifford Brown Quartet in Paris, Clifford Brown Sextet in Paris and Clifford Brown Big Band in Paris).

On February 21, 1954, as a member of Art Blakey's group with Lou Donaldson and Horace Silver, Clifford participated in the landmark live recording for Blue Note, A Night at Birdland Volumes 1 and 2 (Listen: Split Kick, Once in A While, A Night In Tunisia, Quicksilver and Confirmation). The jam session dates with Dinah Washington on EmArcy (Dinah Jams) are a trumpeter's dream. Clifford finds himself in the company of Clark Terry and Maynard Ferguson, and the results are fascinating (Listen: I've Got You Under My Skin).

Brown and drummer Max Roach shared a vision of the future and formed one of the finest small groups in jazz history. Alongside tenor-men Teddy Edwards, Harold Land and Sonny Rollins, the Brown/Roach group produced stunning music (Listen: Cherokee, Joy Spring, Daahoud, Jordu, What Is This Thing Called Love and I'll Remember April). Combining beauty, blistering intensity and a hard swinging ideal, Clifford and Max's recordings are awe-inspiring (Study in Brown, Brown and Roach Inc. and Clifford Brown/Max Roach at Basin Street). Clifford's Neal Hefti-arranged string date (Clifford with Strings) finds the trumpeter interpreting ballads in a beautiful, lush setting. It stands as a testament to his lyricism and his gorgeous tone.

He was killed in an automobile accident at the age of 25.


© 2002 Dan Miller
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