Clifford Brown (October 30, 1930 – June 26, 1956), aka "Brownie," was an influential and highly rated American jazz trumpeter. He died aged 25, leaving behind only four years' worth of recordings. Nonetheless, he had a considerable influence on later jazz trumpet players, including Donald Byrd, Lee Morgan, Booker Little, Freddie Hubbard, Valery Ponomarev, and Wynton Marsalis.
He won the Down Beat critics' poll for the 'New Star of the Year' in 1954; he was inducted into the Down Beat 'Jazz Hall of Fame' in 1972 in the critics' poll. Arturo Sandoval described him as "one of what we call the mandatory trumpet players" who was "one of the greatest trumpet players of all time".
Brown was born in Wilmington, Delaware. After briefly attending Delaware State University and Maryland State College (University of Maryland, Eastern Shore), he moved into playing music professionally, where he quickly became one of the most highly regarded trumpeters in jazz.
His style was influenced by Fats Navarro, sharing Navarro's virtuosic technique and brilliance of invention. His sound was warm and round, and notably consistent across the full range of the instrument. He could articulate every note, even at the high tempos which seemed to present no difficulty to him; this served to enhance the impression of his speed of execution. His sense of harmony was highly developed, enabling him to deliver bold statements through complex harmonic progressions (chord changes), and embodying the linear, "algebraic" terms of bebop harmony. As well as his up-tempo prowess, he could express himself deeply in a ballad performance. It is said that he played each set as though it would be his last.
Jazz historian Neil Tesser, author of The Playboy Guide To Jazz, wrote of him:
He performed with Chris Powell, Tadd Dameron, Lionel Hampton, and Art Blakey before forming his own group with Max Roach. The Clifford Brown & Max Roach Quintet was a high water mark of the hard bop style. The group's pianist, Richie Powell (younger brother of Bud), contributed original compositions, as did Brown himself. The partnership of Brown's trumpet with Harold Land's tenor saxophone made for a very strong front line. Teddy Edwards briefly replaced Land before Sonny Rollins took over for the remainder of the group's existence. In their hands the bebop vernacular reached a peak of inventiveness.
The clean-living Brown has been cited as perhaps breaking the influence of heroin on the jazz world, a model established by Charlie Parker. Clifford stayed away from drugs and was not fond of alcohol; his only vices were chess and doughnuts. Rollins said of him: "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." Roach described him as "one of the rare complete individuals ever born ... a sweet, beautiful [person]".
In June 1956, Brown and Richie Powell were being driven from Philadelphia to Chicago by Powell's wife Nancy for the band's next appearance. While driving on a rainy night on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, west of Bedford, she lost control of the car and it went off the road. All three were killed in the resulting crash. He is buried in Mt. Zion Cemetery, in Wilmington, Delaware.
Benny Golson, who had done a stint in Lionel Hampton's band with "Brownie" (as he was known in the jazz world), wrote "I Remember Clifford" to honour his memory. The piece became an instant standard, as musicians paid tribute by recording their own interpretations of it.
Helen Merrill, who recorded with Clifford Brown in 1954 (Helen Merrill with Clifford Brown, EmArcy), recorded a tribute album in 1995 entitled Brownie: Homage to Clifford Brown. The album features solos and ensemble work by trumpeters Lew Soloff, Tom Harrell, Wallace Roney, and Roy Hargrove.
Delaware pianist Don Glanden produced a documentary of Clifford Brown's life entitled "Brownie Speaks". It will be premiered at the "Brownie Speaks" Clifford Brown Symposium hosted by University of the Arts, featuring performances from close friends and bandmates of Brown such as Benny Golson and Lou Donaldson.