His dancing meldoic improvisations, rich tone, fantastic compositions, and technical mastery of the trumpet are not the only qualities that make Clifford Brown stand out. He also lived his life drug and alcohol free, arrived early to his gigs, and always made time for younger players looking for advice.
When Dizzy Gillespie heard nineteen-year-old “Brownie” (that’s Clifford’s nickname) play, he immediatley began telling everyone in New York about him. And saxophonist Sonny Rollins is noted as saying, “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.”
As a young boy, Clifford was always interested in the trumpet. He started learning how to play it at age thirteen, and soon began taking lessons on trumpet, piano, vibraphone and bass with Robert Lowery. At age eighteen, he was playing gigs in Phillidelphia with Miles Davis, Fats Navarro (his main influence), and Charlie Parker.
Clifford was involved in two car accidents in his life. After the first one, he was hospitalized for about a year (June/1950 to May/1951) and could not perform. After he got out of the hospital, he performed with Tadd Dameron, toured europe with Lionel Hampton– breaking Lionel’s rules by recording in Europe with Gigi Gryce, Art Farmer and Henri Renaud. He also freelanced in NYC with many top musicians, including Art Blakey.
In 1954, he and prominent drummer Max Roach formed one of the top jazz ensembles of the time. Listening to his performances and compostions in that group, many people started to recognize that Brownie was going to be categorized among the greatest trumpet players and musicians.
When Clifford was only 26 years old, his second accident took place while en-route from Philadelphia to a gig in Chicago. Clifford, Richie Powell and his wife Nancy Powell were immediately killed when their car skidded out of control in the rain, flew off an embankment, and turned over. When Dizzy Gillespie heard the news, he said, “For his artistry, there can be no replacement.”
Clifford’s influence can be felt strongly in the playing of Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Marcus Belgrave, Nicholas Payton and many others. He is one of the most influential trumpet players ever, and has a profound effect on almost everyone who has come after him.
Any recording of Clifford’s is bound to thrill, but most people start with Study in Brown. Study in Brown includes the famous Cherokee solo that Arturo Sandoval transcribed and arranged for five trumpets (mp3 here). If you want to hear the softer side of Clifford’s personality and get into the man’s soul, you may wish to listen to one of the most beautiful recordings ever made: Clifford Brown with Strings.
No single musician has been more important to the creation and development of jazz music as Louis Armstrong. In fact, this web-site is dedicated to musicians who were either directly or indirectly influenced by Armstrong. Modern players– even those that may not often listen to Louis Armstrong, may still be indirectly influenced by Louis. It is as Miles Davis proclaimed: ”You can’t play anything on a horn that Louis hasn’t already played.”
There is a vast ocean of recorded Louis Armstrong music; I suggest that you wade into a boxed set or collection first to get an idea of the style and variety of music he performed throughout his over-50-year career. For the earlier part of his career, I recommend the Hot Fives and Sevens box set (mp3 version here). For a general overview of his later career, I recommend Verve’s Jazz Masters 1: Louis Armstrong.