For years, I have heard reports that when the great trumpeter Clfford Brown appeared on a Detroit television program hosted by the comedian Soupy Sales, his performance was recorded. A kinescope has surfaced to confirm the reports. The guest shot with Sales produced what seems to be the only film or videotape of Brown playing. A couple of untypical fluffs at the beginning of “Oh, Lady Be Good” indicate that he had no time to warm up, but once Brownie got underway, his technique, imagination, power and spacious tone were in full operation. Minimal information accompanying the YouTube clip dates the appearance as early 1956, putting it within six months of Brown’s death in a June, 1956 auto crash. What an astonishing musician he was.
A brief conversation with Sales gives us an inkling of Brown’s gentleness and warmth. Sales and his set designer must have been two of the few people in the world to refer to Brown as “Cliff.”
A fair number of performances by Bud Powell exists on video, filmed in French and Scandinavian clubs in 1959, ’62 and ’63. The DVD called Bud Powell in Europe contains most, if not all of them. During this period, the seminal bebop pianist was enjoying relatively good health and stability following years of mental disequilibrium. As I wrote in the essay that accompanied a Powell CD,
…through the 1940s and much of the early ’50s, he performed at a level of energy and inspiration no other pianist could match. Occasionally through the years until his death in 1966, the old incandescence flashed briefly. Even when the uncanny rush of his creative ideas was interrupted and the flame of his almost superhuman energy had lowered, Powell’s sound…the way he touched the piano, the way he voiced chords..was intact.
Inevitably, several pieces lifted from the Powell DVD have popped up on YouTube in various states of video and audio quality, from barely adequate to okay. Powell was in good shape, if not at his peak of genius. You will hear in “Anthropology” and, particularly, in “Get Happy,” the harmonic voicings that inspired pianists in the forties and inform chord theory in jazz to this day. And you will hear the nearly uninterrupted flow of creativity that characterized his melodic lines. He is accompanied by Kenny Clarke, the father of bebop drumming, and bassist Pierre Michelot. On “Anthropology,” tenor saxophonist Lucky Thompson joins them. It may not be Bud in his prime, but here’s the line that ended that liner note essay:
It is always instructive to study even the lesser works of the masters.