Clifford Brown (trumpet) 1930 -1956 :: Clifford Brown , aka “Brownie,” was an American jazz trumpeter. He died aged 25 in a car accident, leaving behind only four years’ worth of recordings.
He was also a composer of note: two of his compositions, “Joy Spring” and “Daahoud”, have become jazz standards.
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.
Brown played in the fourteen-piece, jazz-oriented, Maryland State Band. In June 1950, he was seriously injured in a car accident after a successful gig. During his year-long hospitalization, Dizzy Gillespie visited the younger trumpeter and pushed him to pursue his musical career. Brown’s injuries limited him to the piano for months; he never fully recovered and would routinely dislocate his shoulder for the rest of his life.
Brown moved into playing music professionally, where he quickly became one of the most highly regarded trumpeters in jazz. He was influenced and encouraged 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 very fast tempos which seemed to present no difficulty to him; this served to enhance the impression of his speed of execution.
His first recordings were with R&B bandleader Chris Powell, following which he performed with Tadd Dameron, J. J. Johnson, 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, with all the members of the group except for bassist George Morrow contributing original songs. The partnership of Brown’s trumpet with Harold Land’s tenor saxophone made for a very strong front line. After Land left in 1955 in order to spend more time with his wife, Sonny Rollins joined for the remainder of the group’s existence. In their hands the bebop vernacular reached a peak of inventiveness.
The clean-living Brown escaped 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. Sonny Rollins, who was recovering from a heroin addiction, said that “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.”
In June 1956, immediately following a performance at a Philadelphia record store, Brown and Richie Powell embarked on a drive to Chicago for their next appearance. Powell’s wife Nancy was at the wheel so that Clifford and Richie could sleep. While driving at night in the rain 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.