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Clifford Brown


Clifford Brown (October 30, 1930June 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:

"Clifford Brown could play with a speed and precision that challenged, and at times eclipsed even the virtuosity of his own idols ... But even more than that, Clifford became known for a brain-boggling capacity to improvise long, complex and stunningly well-constructed solos."

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.

Arturo Sandoval's entire second album after fleeing from his native Cuba, also titled I Remember Clifford, was likewise a tribute to Brown.

Each year Wilmington, Delaware hosts the Clifford Brown Jazz Festival.

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.

Partial list of compositions

  • Joy Spring (perhaps Brown's best-known piece)
  • Daahoud (also widely recorded by others)
  • Bones for Jones
  • George's Dilemma
  • Gerkin for Perkin
  • Sandu
  • Swingin'
  • Tiny Capers
  • Brownie Speaks
  • LaRue
  • Blues Walk
  • All Weird
  • Goofin' With Me
  • Clifford’s Axe
  • I Should Have To Told You Goodbye
  • I’m the One
  • Jumpin’ the Blues
  • Long as You’re Living
  • The Best Thing for You Is Me
  • Two Hearts That Pass in the Night
  • When We’re Alone

Partial discography

  • Clifford Brown: Jazz Immortal (Pacific Jazz, 1954, Rudy Van Gelder remastering, 2001)
  • Memorial Album (Blue Note, 1953)
  • Brownie: The Complete EmArcy Recordings of Clifford Brown (Verve)
  • Clifford Brown (Verve; selections from Brownie)
  • Brown and Roach Incorporated (EmArcy, 1954)
  • Sarah Vaughan with Clifford Brown (EmArcy, 1954)
  • Study in Brown (EmArcy, 1955)
  • Clifford Brown and Max Roach (EmArcy, 1955)
  • At Basin Street (EmArcy, 1956)
  • The Clifford Brown Sextet in Paris {Prestige, 1953)
  • Clifford Brown with Strings (EmArcy, 1955)
  • The Clifford Brown Big Band in Paris (Prestige, 1953)
  • Alone Together: The Best of the Mercury Years (Mercury, 1995)
  • Art Blakey Quintet: A Night at Birdland Vol. 1, Vol. 2, & Vol. 3 (Blue Note, 1954)

External links

Further reading

  • Nick Catalano, Clifford Brown: The Life and Art of the Legendary Jazz Trumpeter (Oxford University Press, 2001)

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