Clifford Brown, trumpet titan /3

    Brown seemed to excel at everything - chess, pool, table tennis, maths ... and jazz trumpet, becoming in the last case one of the most highly regarded players of the hard bop period. Part three of a three-part survey of his life and music

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    Clifford Brown and Sonny Rollins

    Just before signing an exclusive contract with Emarcy, Clifford Brown recorded one of the most unusual albums in his discography for Dick Bock of Pacific Jazz. The quintet had been appearing at the Tiffany club opposite Art Pepper and Jack Montrose. Bock decided to feature Brown and Roach with some of the best local musicians like Stu Williamson, Zoot Sims, Bob Gordon, Russ Freeman and Carson Smith. Montrose was hired to write the arrangements but as he told me in a JJ interview, “The music was written with Max in mind but he got into a money hassle with Dick and bowed out at the last minute. Shelly Manne was called and he played just beautifully, bless his heart.”

    The group throw the kitchen sink at Parisian Thoroughfare’s opening vamp and theme with hints of American In Paris, La Marseillaise, Offenbach and assorted traffic noises

    A few months earlier, Clifford had been in the trumpet section of Hampton’s barnstorming big band but on this occasion he embraced quintessential West Coast cool as if to the manner born. The tricky charts on Pacific Jazz Presents the Clifford Brown Ensemble are immaculately performed by the hand-picked ensemble, beginning with Clifford’s Tiny Kapers which becomes a fugue in Montrose’s hands. Blueberry Hill and Gone With The Wind were included apparently at Bock’s insistence, although this did not please Brownie. Three more of his superior originals (Joy Spring, Daahoud and Bones For Jones) were also recorded. These particular charts were reprised in 2002 on The Clifford Brown Project (Capri 74059-2) by the Mark Masters Ensemble and Clifford’s solos were transcribed for a four-piece trumpet section.

    The quintet’s first Emarcy recording took place on 2 August. Delilah opens with an extended ostinato which became one of the group’s favourite devices. Brownie clearly delights in the minor-chord changes and the piece concludes with a masterful Roach solo mostly on mallets. The group throw the kitchen sink at Parisian Thoroughfare’s opening vamp and theme with hints of American In Paris, La Marseillaise, Offenbach and assorted traffic noises.

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    A few years after this recording I had some saxophone lessons from Wally Houser, who eventually became an attorney for Ronnie Scott’s club. A fine alto player, he wrote this chart minus the quotes together with Joy Spring as an exercise for me. Manhattan Transfer recorded a vocalese version of Joy Spring with Jon Hendricks’s lyrics in 1985 (Atlantic 7-81266).

    Herb Geller: ‘The highlight for me was playing with Clifford who was a marvellous, extraordinary human being and musician. His sound was beautiful and soulful with such a sparkling way of playing’

    There have been nearly 200 recordings of Jordu but the quintet’s version here is surely the definitive one. It is notable for the way the principals creatively negotiate their way through the intriguing bridge modulations in the solo choruses. The sleeve note incorrectly states the group premiered it but composer Duke Jordan recorded it first seven months earlier. Sweet Clifford is a super-fast excursion on Sweet Georgia Brown. It becomes an extensive outing for Max Roach, who demonstrates once again the art of creating a musical solo even at the ferocious tempo of 80 bars to the minute. I Get A Kick Out Of You is a thrilling exercise in mixed metres – 3/4 and 4/4 – originally introduced to the group by Sonny Stitt.

    A few days later Emarcy arranged two studio dates designed to replicate the jam-session formula popularised by JATP. Clifford and Max were featured with an assortment of stars from the label’s roster including Herb Geller, Joe Maini, Clark Terry, Maynard Ferguson and Dinah Washington. It has to be said that these overlong titles, some stretching to 20 minutes or more, fail to maintain interest. Brown and Roach were apparently uncomfortable and Mark Gardner has dismissed the dates as “less than essential”. In a JJ interview Herb Geller told me “The highlight for me was playing with Clifford who was a marvellous, extraordinary human being and musician. His sound was beautiful and soulful with such a sparkling way of playing.”

    The Emarcy string album, recorded over three days in January 1955, became Clifford’s most popular session and influenced Wynton Marsalis to take up the trumpet

    After three months in California the quintet relocated to the East Coast for an October engagement at the Blue Note in Philadelphia which was followed by two weeks at Detroit’s Crystal Lounge. Over the next month Emarcy embarked on three memorable albums placing the trumpeter in totally new and stimulating settings with Sarah Vaughan, Helen Merrill and a string date with Neal Hefti. Sarah Vaughan was accompanied by her regular trio of Jimmy Jones, Joe Benjamin and Roy Haynes. Herbie Mann and the inventive Paul Quinichette were on hand too. The Vice-Pres lives up to Bob Brookmeyer’s description of him as “the only fellow I know who can order a meal on tenor”. The string album, recorded over three days in January 1955, became Clifford’s most popular session and influenced Wynton Marsalis to take up the trumpet. The spotlight here often shines on the rich timbre of his work in the lower register. My guess is that Hefti’s scores did not indicate exactly what, but where Clifford was to play. Sticking close to the melodies, he was free to interpret these songbook classics in his own distinctive way, making elaborate use of embellishments and delicate grace notes with a more pronounced use of vibrato than usual.

    A month later the quintet was back in the studio for a date that introduced some new material mostly by Clifford Brown: Gerkin For Perkin, Swingin’, George’s Dilemma, The Blues Walk and Sandu. Richie Powell contributed Jacqui and Gertrude’s Bounce while Harold Land weighed in with Land’s End. Swingin’ is an uptempo romp based on I Never Knew and is the sort of vehicle the group might have used as an opener on club dates. The atmospheric George’s Dilemma is a gem. Opening with a delicate four-bar cymbal figure it leads to a bass ostinato which is repeated throughout the A section of the structure. The Afro-Cuban background inspires Clifford to one of his most melodic solos on record. There is some fine Richie Powell in double-octaves here too. Roach’s apposite description of the piece as “A romance between Afro-Cuban and jazz rhythm” is right on the money. The cute Jacqui is notable for the charming and unexpected quote from Dizzy Gillespie’s Con Alma in the coda. Emarcy’s reissue incorrectly shows a 1956 date – it was actually recorded 25 February 1955. The tenor man’s Land’s End is an outstanding composition worthy of Benny Golson at his very best. Cherokee opens with one of the group’s trademark ostinatos, humorously suggesting a connection between native Americans and Ray Noble’s song title. In these PC days it would probably be frowned on in some quarters. It had become one of the trumpeter’s specialities and he storms through blissfully unaware of the challenging 90-bpm tempo.

    Joe Glaser was now handling the quintet’s bookings. Their popular recordings opened the door for regular club dates in cities such as New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago. In July they performed a well-received set at the Newport Jazz Festival and the co-leaders also sat in for a chaotic Tea For Two with Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker and the Dave Brubeck quartet before a wildly enthusiastic audience – definitely one for completists though. Tired of being on the road and wanting to return to his family in Los Angeles, Harold Land decided to leave the quintet in October that year. He had this to say about playing with Brown: “It was a constant challenge to play alongside him. He was a very great artist.” Sonny Rollins was available and the new line-up opened at Philadelphia’s Showboat the following month. After one of their customary standing-room-only engagements at New York’s Basin Street the quintet made its recording debut on 4 January 1956. In a discography replete with Desert Island Disc material, one of the titles from that session deserves special mention. Tadd Dameron was in the studio and he arranged What Is This Thing Called Love, which finds the quintet at its most inventive and exciting. In March they recorded five titles under Rollins’ leadership including two of his new originals – Pent-Up House and Valse Hot. Years later, when Sonny was asked to name the three musicians he admired the most, he replied “Lester Young, Charlie Parker and Clifford Brown.”

    Three months later, on 26 June, Clifford Brown’s career was brought to a sudden end when he was involved in a fatal car accident on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. He was driving with Nancy and Richie Powell to a booking at Chicago’s Blue Note when their car hit a bridge abutment before rolling down a steep embankment. All three were killed.

    A good example of how his peers felt about him can be found in a musicians’ poll that Leonard Feather conducted in 1956. These are a just a few of the artists who gave him their vote: Harry Carney, Conte Candoli, Buck Clayton, Jimmy Cleveland, Miles Davis, Terry Gibbs, Dizzy Gillespie, Milt Jackson, J.J. Johnson, Quincy Jones, Oscar Peterson, Bud Powell, Max Roach, George Shearing and George Wallington.

    Selected discography
    Clifford Brown: Brownie – The Complete Emarcy Recordings Of Clifford Brown (10 CDs) – CD 838 306-2
    Clifford Brown: Joy Spring (four CDs) – Properbox 86
    Clifford Brown: Jazz Immortal – MatchBall CD 48016
    Max Roach-Clifford Brown Quintet: The California Concerts – Fresh Sound FSRCD 377
    Art Blakey-Clifford Brown Immortal Concerts – Giants Of Jazz CD 53033

    Recommended reading
    Clifford Brown – The Life And Art Of The Legendary Jazz Trumpeter. Nick Catalano (Oxford University Press).
    Rat Race Blues – The Musical Life Of Gigi Gryce. Noal Cohen & Michael Fitzgerald (Berkeley Hills Books).

    In compiling this appreciation I would like to acknowledge the help received from John Bell, Bob Weir and the Jazz Institute in Darmstadt, Germany.

    Read part one of this article; Read part two

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