"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."
Clifford Brown 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 trumpeter began playing gigs in Philadelphia on graduating in 1948. That same year, he entered the University of Delaware 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 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 with the youngster's potentialities.
After the year at the University of Delaware, Brownie had a chance to enter a college that did boast a good music department, 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 automobile 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 his first 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 in 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.
Fortunately, it need not be said that Clifford Brown died unhonored or unsung. during his last two years, he enjoyed a degree of recognition almost commensurate with what he deserved. To point out that this recognition could have brought him to the pinnacle of jazz fame in a few years is to stress the obvious.
--From the liner notes,
Clifford Brown Memorial Album
A selected discography of Clifford Brown albums.
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