Clifford Brown at Birdland in New York City, 1954. Photo by Herman Leonard. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.
By Matt Silver
In 1957, Benny Golson wrote perhaps the most beautiful requiem in the jazz canon. Earnest and heart-wrenching “I Remember Clifford” is a bona fide standard, inspiring versions by Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, Lee Morgan, Sonny Rollins, Quincy Jones, and nearly every jazz instrumentalist of consequence, including Golson himself.
But it begs the question: Do we follow the lead of Benny’s lament and do enough to remember Clifford ourselves? This year, we do. Here at KSDS, we aim to honor jazz’s great innovators, past and present. Clifford Brown, who tragically died four months shy of his 26th birthday in June 1956, is indisputably one of them.
Today, Monday, October 30th, would have been Clifford’s 93rd birthday, and here at KSDS we’re asking you to join us for a special day-long event celebrating the life and music of Clifford Brown, the virtuoso instrumentalist, the prodigious composer and arranger, and one of the few musicians of the early-to-mid 1950s to bridge bebop and hard-bop AND integrate both into the cooler sound native to Southern California that’d come to be called West Coast jazz.
As with every great artist, Brown’s career had periods signifying his evolving musicality. Unlike almost any artist to whom he could be compared, these periods were hyper-condensed into about four years. Without help from the experts, it might take you that long understand the brief but brilliant arc of Brown’s career. We’re blessed at KSDS to call those experts our hosts, and today, we’re letting them do their thing. When they’re done, even if you’ve absorbed just a fraction of their passion and erudition, your experience listening to the music of Clifford Brown will be forever enhanced.
Kenny Washington will guide you through Brown’s thrilling first jazz recordings for the Prestige and Blue Note labels, including dates led by alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson, master trombonist J.J. Johnson, the prolific bebop composer and arranger Tadd Dameron, and Brown himself, who made his debut as a leader for Blue Note late in the summer of 1953, the summer that put him on express train to jazz immortality.
Brown’s debut as a leader for Blue Note, recorded August 1953.
One thing to keep in the back of your mind when considering the narrative arc of Brown’s career: It was Dameron who, in the beginning of that fateful ’53 summer, hired the 22-year-old kid called “Brownie” for his first major jazz gigs. First was a recording date in New York City with Dameron’s orchestra for the Prestige label that produced A Study in Dameronia. This was followed a few weeks later by a summer-long engagement at Club Paradise in Atlantic City, with a Dameron-led octet that included Golson, Gigi Gryce, Philly Joe Jones and Jymie Merritt. At that time, the Black-owned clubs of Atlantic City’s Northside—like the Paradise and its Kentucky Avenue counterpart Club Harlem—were veritable incubators for the new jazz conceptions and the soon-to-be-stars of Philadelphia and New York.
One night, Quincy Jones, who’d been playing in Wildwood with Lionel Hampton’s orchestra, drove the 40-odd miles north to Atlantic City to hear Brown play. He drove back down and implored Hampton to hire Brown for an upcoming European tour.
That’s how Brown found himself touring Europe in late 1953, playing beside Quincy Jones and Art Farmer. And what’s maybe most remarkable about Brown’s trip to Europe is how frequently he and his bandmates played outside the confines of Hampton’s orchestra. Jones, Farmer, Brown, saxophonist Gigi Gryce, and others took side gigs with local European players in almost every city they visited, much to the chagrin of Hampton’s wife, Gladys, who, according to Brown biographer Nick Catalano had issued an edict: “No one in the band would be allowed to record independently in Europe without Hampton. Anyone caught doing this clandestinely would be fired immediately and would not receive any money for passage back to America.”
“The conspirators, led by Quincy Jones,” writes Catalano, “had no intention of obeying the edict.”
This side, featuring Brown with Hampton Orchestra section mate Art Farmer and Quincy Jones arrangements, was recorded with local musicians in Stockholm--an example of the extra-curricular recording activities of Hampton’s sidemen on-tour in Europe.
Years later, in the early ’90s, Catalano reports, Jones recalled, in an interview with Wire magazine, Brown’s brilliant playing during these side sessions and how influential Brown had been on Jones’s later decision to concentrate more on arranging than playing.
“I loved the way Brownie played,” Jones told Wire, “and I said [to him], ‘To play like you I would have to play all the time.’ But he loved the way I wrote, and he said to write like that, he would have to write all the time. I had always loved the idea of arranging, right since I was a small kid, but that was when I decided to concentrate on it.”
There are so many more anecdotes like this, and you can be sure that the always debonair and cosmopolitan Will Friedwald will unpack at least a few of them, as he chronicles Brown’s tour of the European capitals in the autumn of 1953. Friedwald, with his signature blend of enthusiasm and savoir faire, will shepherd you across the Continent in style—from sessions in Copenhagen and Stockholm to unforgettable dates in Paris and one particularly interesting engagement at the Sportpalast in post-war Berlin, a venue where just 10 years prior, Joseph Goebbels had delivered his infamous Total War speech before 14,000 frenzied and delusional Nazis. With plenty of American serviceman still stationed in-country in October ’53, that performance was broadcast on Armed Forces Radio.
Remarkable tidbits like this abound, and we can’t think of anyone better than Friedwald to provide context and color.
Following Friedwald, it’ll be back to Kenny Washington, one of the great New York City drummers ever—EVER!— to talk about a period in Clifford Brown’s life that he’s uniquely qualified to comment on. I’m talking about Brown’s New York City period in early 1954, a time punctuated by rollicking drum-thunder and a marathon five-set live recording with hard-bop godfather Art Blakey at Midtown Manhattan’s famed Birdland. Direct insight from Kenny Washington about the New York jazz scene and Art Blakey is like Louie the 14th giving you a personal tour around Versailles. It’s like walking through Florence at the height of the Renaissance with a Medici!
Brown played with legendary drummers during his short but extraordinarily productive career. Philly Joe Jones, Kenny Clarke, and, of course, Max Roach. Art Blakey, too.
Then it’s onto Ken Poston, our fearless leader here at KSDS, doing what he does best: giving you the insider’s tour of Clifford Brown’s time out here, on the West Coast.
Again, a host uniquely situated for the role.
The depth and breadth of Ken’s storehouse of jazz knowledge is staggering. He’s forgotten more about the history of jazz on the West Coast in the last ten minutes than I could ever hope to learn and pass off in over three lifetimes worth of cocktail party conversations. And it works out well because the period in Brown’s life he’ll cover is one of tremendous consequence.
In the spring of 1954, Brown heads west at another drummer’s behest— and by now he’s worked with some pretty monumental drummers—Philly Joe, Kenny Clarke, Art Blakey…don’t be shocked to hear Kenny Washington mention those other guys, too. Canonical names all. But the drummer that got Clifford to head west was Max Roach. What resulted was the signature musical partnership of Clifford Brown’s career; the partnership that forever altered both of their legacies, and the partnership that lasted until Clifford’s death.
Brown and Roach’s West Coast recordings are particularly interesting because the band goes through a couple different permutations before settling into the most successful version of its West Coast self.
Legendary West Coast jazz impresario Gene Norman produced early live recordings from LA’s California Club in April, ’54, featuring the likes of Carl Perkins on piano and Teddy Edwards on tenor sax. These albums on Norman’s legendary GNP label featured brilliant cover art produced by John Brandt, a very highly regarded West Coast artist who worked with Warner Brothers, Ray Patin’s Studio and Ward Campbell’s animation unit at Disney.
West Coast impresario Gene Norman produced several live recordings of Brown and Roach playing in Southern California, with sidemen synonymous with the style called West Coast Jazz.
Because this is some of the coolest cover art in the canon, and because we here at KSDS have our fingers squarely on the pulse of that which is not trendy, but timelessly, classically cool, we decided to transform Brandt’s iconic cover art into the most unique KSDS tee-shirt you could ever dream of wearing. The good news is you can stop dreaming about it. Just give us a call, make a pledge to support special programming like this Clifford Brown celebration, and pick up one of these one-of-a-kind tee-shirts for yourself. We don’t have many of them, and they’ll all go.
So make the call: 619-388-3000. Brown and Roach. Gene Norman. The art of John Brandt. Available in three colors to commemorate the three volumes of live recordings issued by Norman and the GNP label, these tees are available in all sizes, and you can see exactly what they look like by visiting jazz88.org.
On the Ken Poston-hosted leg of our Clifford Brown marathon, he’ll give you all the details about those GNP sessions—details you won’t be able to find anywhere else. Literally. So even if you buy the shirt before knowing the first thing about the records they commemorate, don’t worry: no one will call you a poser. Mostly because by the time you’re done listening to KSDS for the day, you won’t be. And also because it’s not 1995 anymore.
But back to Clifford Brown, and his flagrantly under-documented West Coast period.
Clifford’s Southern California connection is real. In addition to the Gene Norman dates, he and Max Roach tapped locally sourced sidemen like drummer Shelly Manne and saxophonist Zoot Sims for a mid-summer studio date notable for Jack Montrose arrangements of a pair of Brown’s most well-known compositions “Joy Spring” and “Daahoud.”
But what you’ll learn—and again, Ken will go into greater detail—is that the West Coast band really comes together in early August ’54, when Brown and Roach add Richie Powell—Bud’s brother—on piano, George Morrow on bass, and San Diego’s Harold Land on tenor saxophone. These early August 1954 studio dates in Hollywood produced some of the quintet’s most cherished recordings, including the cuts that comprised their eponymously titled debut, Clifford Brown and Max Roach, one of the most celebrated hard-bop titles of that or any time.
With Land and Morrow and Powell in place, the band’s core personnel would be set through the rest of 1954 through late 1955. Though before the quintet decamped back to New York after the summer of ’54, there were some one-off recording sessions that will be of particular interest to West Coast jazz buffs, including a Brown and Roach-led date with Herb Geller on alto sax, another with Russ Freeman on piano, and yet another with a 10-piece band backing Dinah Washington and featuring guest trumpets Maynard Ferguson and Clark Terry, with Junior Mance on piano.
Brown and Roach are mostly thought of as East Coast hard-boppers, but when they played in Southern California, they often did so with sidemen synonymous with the style called West Coast Jazz.
It’s these lesser-known permutations of the Brown and Roach-led bands that an historian like Ken Poston dines out on. So, if you’re interested at all in the impact Brown and Roach had out here on the west coast, and the quintessential west coast musicians they incorporated into their legacy, you simply can’t miss Ken’s portion of this Brown retrospective.
Closing out our Clifford Brown 93rd birthday celebratory extravaganza, we’ll kick things over to our own Loren Schoenberg—who, in addition to being a Grammy winning jazz historian, musician, and educator at Juilliard is, perhaps most prestigiously, the host of “Jazz Potpourri” on Sunday mornings from 10 a.m. to noon right here on KSDS. Loren, an accomplished saxophonist in his own right, will take us from late 1954 engagements with Sarah Vaughan and bands conducted by Quincy Jones to the latter stages of the Brown-Roach quintet’s Harold Land-era, and ultimately into the final major Brown/Roach period.
And that was, of course, the stratospheric new heights Brown and Roach would reach from fall 1955-onward, when they replaced Land — who by then was focusing on leading his own bands in LA — with a slightly younger tenorman on his way to becoming a saxophone colossus.
His name was Sonny Rollins.
Rollins and Roach would, of course, cultivate their own long history, but this period was one of those flashpoints, a single snapshot of the best to ever do it, either at the peaks of their powers or ascending toward those peaks.
1956’s Clifford Brown and Max Roach at Basin Street busts at the seams with iconic takes on standards. “What is this Thing Called Love” and “I’ll Remember April” have endured as authoritative interpretations— they’re nearly perfect— and the weaving in and out of standard time on Richie Powell’s arrangement of “Love is a Many Splendored Thing” has, for me, always been one of the most thrillingly idiosyncratic presentations of that Songbook classic.
”At Basin Street” and “Sonny Rollins Plus 4,” both 1956 releases, were the last two records Brown played on.
This album also brings Clifford’s career full circle in a way—because we see and hear Tadd Dameron reunite with Clifford, by composing and arranging two iconic tunes here: “Flossy Lou" and "The Scene is Clean.” By the time the Basin Street recording gig comes along in early ’56, Dameron had basically made repeat trips to various stages of hell with his drug use…to the point where Brown and Roach ventured out to Dameron’s hometown of Cleveland and basically forced their friend to return with them to New York, get clean, and start writing again.
That’s what Dameron’s referring to on “The Scene is Clean”… Brown’s reputation for clean living, while achieving the highest level of musicianship unaided and unburdened by substances. The idea that you could be clean, stay clean, and play like Clifford Brown is something that Sonny Rollins, too, has consistently cited as pivotal in his ability to get clean and stay not just clean but maximally productive as a musician.
It should be remembered, too, that when Brown helped Dameron get back on his feet, this constituted Clifford returning the favor to Tadd. Despite Brown’s rare ability to combine power and finesse, to combine crystal clear articulation with boundless ideas and technique to match, Clifford was relatively unproven and looking for a shot in the summer of 1953, when the great Dameron tapped him first for that Prestige recording date in New York— and then for that summer residency at Club Paradise in Atlantic City.
Before that fateful Summer of ‘53, Clifford Brown—if you can believe it—was—at least in terms of his paying work— a rhythm and blues man, playing a style of music that would qualify today as proto-rock and roll.
Brown may have debuted as a leader for Blue Note, but the first recording he ever played on was for a Philadelphia rhythm and blues band called Chris Powell and the Blue Flames.
Born and raised in Wilmington, Delaware, Brown was playing in the clubs of nearby Philadelphia by the time he was a teenager. Bebop’s superstars like Bird and Diz and Fats Navarro—whom Brown modeled his round, fat sound after— would gig in Philly often; they were aware that this young kid called Clifford Brown existed—and thought highly of his potential. But it was with Chris Powell and the Blue Flames, one of the dozens of Philly dance bands playing this primordial rock and roll in the late 40s and early 50s, that Brown first learned how to be a professional musician.
As Billy Vera—our Grammy winning host of “Saturday Night Fish Fry” and resident expert on jump blues, boogie woogie and all the strains of the blues that birthed early rock and roll—will explain in vividly colorful detail, it was on a 1952 recording with Powell’s Blue Flames that we hear, for the first time, the trumpet of Clifford Brown.
So, without further adieu, let me declare that “I Remember Clifford,” KSDS Jazz 88.3’s celebration of Clifford Brown’s life, work, and 93rd birthday is officially open!
Call 619-388-3000 to get that one-of-a-kind tee shirt commemorating Brown and Roach’s recordings with Gene Norman right here in Southern California, and keep your radio dial locked to 88.3 FM in San Diego and your internet browsers set on Jazz88.org all around the world. And start your day, Clifford’s 93rd, with Billy Vera and the music Clifford Brown played before the wide world of jazz world knew he even existed!