Clifford Brown died on this date in 1956. If he had lived, he would be 80. We will never know what glories he would have added to those he had achieved at the age of 26. Here is what I wrote on the 50th anniversary of his death.
Fifty years ago today at The Seattle Times, as I ripped copy from the wire machines my eye went to a story in the latest Associated Press national split. A young trumpeter named Clifford Brown had been killed early that morning in a car crash. My heart stopped for a beat or two. My stomach churned. I felt ill. I was attempting to master the trumpet and, like virtually all aspiring trumpet players, idolized Brown. The life of a majestically inventive musician had ended violently on a rainy highway in Pennsylvania. He was four months short of his twenty-sixth birthday. When I think about his loss, I still feel ill.
There has never been a jazz musician who worked harder, lived cleaner, and accomplished or promised more in so short a lifetime. His practice routine encompassed taping himself as he worked out on trumpet and piano. I have listened to some of those tapes. It is moving to hear Brown pursue–and achieve–perfection as he brings complex ideas to fruition through the persistent application of his technical mastery, to hear him sing a phrase and then play it repeatedly until he has polished it nearly to his satisfaction. Like most first-rank artists, he was never truly satisfied with his performance. To listeners, however, Brown’s solos are among the glories of twentieth century music. To trumpet players, his work remains an inspiration. His passion, power, lyricism and flaweless execution constitute a model whose pursuit is bound to bring improvement.
In Today’s Washington Post, Matt Schudel summarizes Brown’s life and contributions. For a fuller account, read Nick Catalano’s biography of Brown. Fortunately, Brown recorded copiously during his few years of playing. Most of his work remains in print. This album captures him at his peak with the group he and drummer Max Roach co-led. This box set covers highlights from his recordings for several labels. If you don’t know Clifford Brown’s work, I suggest that you move immediately toward the nearest CD shop or website.
For rare video of Brown playing, see this Rifftides archive post.