| or Call: (404) 627-4734

Tweet Me!

Clifford Brown

Considerable influence on later jazz trumpet players!

Artist Spotlight....

Clifford Brown

Wilmington, Delaware, U.S..... Musician, trumpeter, Composer

Genres..... Jazz, bebop, hard bop

Labels..... MRC Recordings

October 30, 1930 – June 26, 1956 - "The record companies owe it to the future of jazz to make every possible fragment of the beautiful musical gifts Clifford gave the world with unbounded love" QUINCY JONES..

"New Star of the Year" in 1954

Brown, aka "Brownie", was an American jazz trumpeter. He died at the age of 25 in a car accident, leaving behind only four years' worth of recordings. Nonetheless, he had a considerable influence on later jazz trumpet players, including Donald Byrd, Lee Morgan, Booker Little, Arturo Sandoval, Freddie Hubbard, and others. He was also a composer of note: two of his compositions, "Joy Spring" and "Daahoud", have become jazz standards. His other notable compositions include Minor Mood, Sandu, and Tiny Capers.

Brown 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 was born into a musical family in a progressive East-Side neighborhood of Wilmington, Delaware. His father organized his four youngest sons, including Clifford, into a vocal quartet. Around age ten, Brown started playing trumpet at school after becoming fascinated with the shiny trumpet his father owned. At age thirteen, upon entering senior high, his father bought him his own trumpet and provided him with private lessons. As a junior in high school, he received lessons from Robert Boysie Lowery and played in "a jazz group that Lowery organized." He even began making trips to Philadelphia. Brown took pride in his neighborhood and earned a good education from Howard High.

Brown briefly attended Delaware State University as a math major, before he switched to Maryland State College, which was a more prosperous musical environment. As Nick Catalano points out, Brown's trips to Philadelphia grew in frequency after he graduated from high school and entered Delaware State University; it could be said that, although his dorm was in Dover, his classroom was in Philadelphia. 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.

Brown 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 sense of harmony was highly developed, enabling him to deliver bold statements through complex harmonic progressions (chord changes), and embodying the linear, "algebraic" terms of bebop harmony. In addition to his up-tempo prowess, he could express himself deeply in a ballad performance.

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. Brown's trumpet was originally partnered with Harold Land's tenor saxophone. After Land left in 1955 in order to spend more time with his wife, Sonny Rollins joined and remained a member of the group for the rest of its 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. Brown stayed away from drugs and was not fond of alcohol. 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, 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 must have lost control of the car which went off the road. All three were killed in the resulting crash. Brown is buried in Mt. Zion Cemetery, in Wilmington, Delaware.


Benny Golson, who had done a stint in Lionel Hampton's band with Brown, wrote "I Remember Clifford" to honor his memory. The piece became a jazz standard, as musicians paid tribute by recording their own interpretations of it.

Duke Pearson wrote "Tribute To Brownie", which was recorded by the Cannonball Adderley Quintet on their 1957 album, Sophisticated Swing. It also appeared on an album by Louis Smith.

Helen Merrill, who recorded with Brown in 1954 (Helen Merrill, EmArcy), recorded a tribute album in 1995 entitled Brownie: Homage to Clifford Brown. The album features solos and ensemble work by trumpeters Lew Soloff, Tom Harrell, Wallace Roney, and Roy Hargrove.

Arturo Sandoval's entire second album after fleeing from his native Cuba, entitled I Remember Clifford, was likewise a tribute to Brown.

Each year, Wilmington hosts the Clifford Brown Jazz Festival.

Brownie Speaks, a video documentary, is the culmination of years of research by Wilmington-born jazz pianist Don Glanden, research that has included interviews with Brown's friends, family, contemporaries, and admirers. Glanden's son Brad edited these interviews, along with archival materials and newly shot video footage. The documentary premiered in 2008 at the "Brownie Speaks" Clifford Brown Symposium hosted by The University of the Arts in Philadelphia. The three-day symposium featured performances from close friends and band mates of Brown such as Golson and Lou Donaldson and other artists inspired by Brown, including Marcus Belgrave, Terence Blanchard, and John Fedchock.

In 1994, Brown's widow, LaRue Brown Watson, established the Clifford Brown Jazz Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to Brown's memory and inspiring a love for jazz among young people. The Foundation is currently under the direction of Clifford Brown III, Brown's grandson and a respected Bay Area trumpeter and music producer.



"Clifford's self assuredness in his playing reflected the mind and soul of a blossoming young artist who would have rightfully taken his place next to Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and other leaders in jazz. The record companies owe it to the future of jazz to make every possible fragment of the beautiful musical gifts Clifford gave the world with unbounded love".


"It was on the night of June 27, 1956. At that time I was playing in Dizzy Gillespie's band, and that night we were on the stage of the Apollo Theatre in New York. The first show ended and preparing to return to the stage. Suddenly, Walter Davis, Jr. ran onstage while crying, and said to everyone, "You heard? You heard? Brownie was killed yesterday (June 26, 1956)."

Of course, no musicians walking on stage could believe it. Some covered their faces with their hands and said, "Oh no!" Everyone couldn't move with shock. With tears all over, Walter said, "Clifford Brown was killed in a car accident yesterday! Pianist Richie Powell and his wife also killed!" Still I can't believe it. I felt like I almost fainted. That such a sweet guy should die in a car crash! That Richie Powell and his wife should die with him!

Then the stage director shouted, "It's time, everyone! Play!" No one could do anything, although we took our seats, but of course we couldn't play. Dizzy somehow encouraged us, and the curtain was raised. Many of the musicians were crying while playing, and the music tended to be cut off from time to time. I said to myself, "This is a nightmare! It's a nightmare!" And I tried to awaken from the nightmare. But the next morning I found Brownie's death in the paper.

For some time after that, all the musicians talked about was Clifford Brown.".


"Clifford Brown was a very beautiful person. He had a very warm personality and usually seemed so relaxed it made me relaxed to be around him. In my opinion Brownie had a very even temperament, if that's the best way to describe it, and a kind of wisdom or knowledge of himself and those around him, and of life in general, that one associates with someone quite a bit older than he was at the time. And to me these same qualities were evident when he expressed himself through his instrument. I have had more than one talented musician say to me, referring to Brownie, that he played his instrument like a young old man! And in each instance I'm sure they meant this statement to be an extremely beautiful compliment, that a man so young in years could acquire such command, depth, and broad musical scope in such a relatively short span of time. Playing with the fire and creativeness of a young man, and with the depth, tenderness, and insight into past, present, and future of an older man.".


"Clifford Brown was certainly a master and a major link in the history of the trumpet. This instrument has always had two kinds of stars; those who advance the mainstream evolution of the instrument and those who are of such unique proportions that they remain phenomena unto themselves with perhaps a few disciples. Miles Davis is indicative of the latter, but Brown is certainly a prime example of the former. Without Brownie, it would be hard to imagine the existence of Lee Morgan or Freddie Hubbard or Booker Little or Woody Shaw or Wynton Marsalis.".



Tempus Fugit, which means in Latin, "Time Flies." This is the name of a composition Dizzy Gillespie wrote and used to play at a ridiculous tempo. When Dizzy played this composition, I marveled at his technical ability, his magnificent range, and his distinctive tone quality. My attention was drawn to the composition: the way it was constructed, the chord progression, and the melodic lines. These were the elements that captured my attention. I gave little if any attention to the title of the tune, for the title was just two significant words written in a dead language which is still written but not spoken.

How many times have we heard words or phrases that have very little meaning and how many times has it taken a significant occurrence to bring about an awareness and to give meaning to a saying or phrase that you have often heard? Just such an occurrence happened to me two weeks ago in Wilmington, Delaware. All of the sudden, forty years passed through my mind at the speed of light.

Forty years ago (June, 1956) I was shocked to hear that one of my favorite trumpeters and idols had died on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, due to bad weather and miscalculation and confusion by the driver. It brought about the demise of three persons: Clifford Brown, Richard Powell and his wife.

This was a great loss to the music world. Even today, his ability to perform on the trumpet is unparalleled and indelible. This I can attest to by the many requests I get to explain his approach to the art of playing trumpet. This is further seen by the popularity of his recordings, written music, and the performance of his music. All of those who have followed his lead have been impacted upon in one way or another, including me. Trumpet players such as Roy Eldridge, Charlie Chavers, Clark Terry, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Buck Clayton, Edrees Sulieman, Dizzy, Miles, Art Farmer, Nat Adderley, Benny Bailey and many others who came before him and his contemporaries were in awe of his dedication and awesome talent. Those who started out of his talent have names which run into infinity such as Bill Hardman, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Booker Little, Woody Shaw up to and including the trumpeters of today such as Wynton Marsalis, Terrance Blanchard, Darren Barrett and many others (including Randy Brecker, Tom Harrell, Marvin Stamm, Joe Schepley). Many have written about him or quoted him musically in their performances. Clifford truly redirected the art of playing trumpet. All trumpet players from various disciplines and of different persuasions know of him and acknowledge his greatness. Clifford is immortal.

In Wilmington, they have named an auditorium at the Christina Culture Center in his honor. The city has further honored him by creating a Jazz Festival using his name. People from all over the world come to the festival and world class musicians perform there often dedicating compositions in his honor or playing his music. His contributions and name are timeless. His greatness can also be measured by the sales of his records, sheet music, and the honors that are still given to him. Further evidence is seen by the articles and dissertations written about him. He is held in the highest esteem by all musicians: jazz, classical and any others. As I stood before his grave, I was awestruck by his accomplishments. But as I looked at his beautiful headstone, then looked around at the cemetery where he was laid to rest, I was taken aback by the conditions of the active historical Black cemetery.

What had a further impact on me was the fact that he is buried with his family -- mother, father and others. Which is also near the place where the famous vibra-harpist Len Winchester is interred. Len's death is another story I will tell at a later date and time. Another point that left me speechless was at this Wilmington historical burial ground/site, there are many slave markers which have dates that are in the early 1800s, before emancipation. I had only experienced this once before, so right away I became profoundly involved. Here was my friend, idol, and one of the greatest trumpet players of this century interred beneath the garbage, rubbish, and abandoned auto parts scattered among the many pools-flooded roads, paths, and swamps of water. Here is a place surrounded by overturned headstones, desecrated grave markers, and situated only five feet from the railroad tracks. It is more to believe that Wilmington was still a segregated city in the summer of 1956, than to believe this black cemetery and others a couple of blocks down the main street were in such a condition.

Respect, honor and admiration do not diminish nor die at the funeral. They grow, if anything. Nothing in terms of love and devotion are lost, they are heightened, for the total picture is rarely seen.

My father said, "we will be judged by what we have accomplished. All of our efforts will be measured, all of our actions accounted." To sum it up it is like Max Roach's album, "Little Deeds", not words. I've never head a disparaging word spoken about Clifford Brown, only praise. Praise in terms of honor, dedications, and songs, such as Benny Golson's "I Remember Clifford."

How time flies is seen by the fact of all who come to the festival in his name, from all over the world. The many hundreds and thousands that go to the concert that is named in his honor, and the hundreds that pass and sit in the shadow of his bust in the Education and Humanities building at Delaware State University. They have not seen nor know the state of the burial grounds.

I must say to all the hundreds and thousands of young trumpet players who copy, imitate, emulate, great and not so great, young, middle aged and old, "you are next."

A tradition, culture, or heritage will only last--will only survive--if it is carried on and promoted. What makes a tradition and culture viable when the principles are kept alive and are used? That is what makes a culture, a society, a tradition, and heritage great! We must not only never forget but we must always remember. To use a very old expression, "how soon we forget." A phrase that is often used and sometimes looses its meaning, but then you have some events like Clifford's death and the grave site which revitalize that meaning. As I stood before his headstone and reviewed the last forty years of my life since his death, I could see how quickly time passes and in terms of his grave site and the condition it is in, how soon we forget.

Too often, we have a bad habit of separating a man from his music. The music of Clifford is soul, heart, mind, and belief. As his music lives, so will his existence. Let us honor him as we honor his talent. We will always be grateful for his inspirations".

Dr. Donaldson T. Byrd

CLICK HERE: For video performance