Clifford Brown Day

October 30, 1930 – June 26, 1956

A tribute to the immortal trumpeter

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Trumpeter Clifford Brown was born on October 30, 1930 in Wilmington, Delaware.

Brown sang in a family vocal quartet with his brothers as a youth and started playing trumpet when he was ten.

After high school, he was a Math major for a short time at Delaware State University, switching to Maryland State College where he concentrated more on music.

He was seriously injured in a car accident in June 1950 that put him out of action for a year, but he emerged from the hospital determined to make music his career.

Influenced by Fats Navarro, Brown had a warm and full tone, a complete command of his instrument, and the ability to create fresh melodies no matter how blazing the tempo.

In 1952 Brownie made his first recordings with Chris Powell and that was soon followed by stints with Tadd Dameron, J.J. Johnson, and the Lionel Hampton Big Band (with whom he toured Europe in the fall of 1953), plus a well-recorded Birdland engagement with Art Blakey.

In 1954, Brown and drummer Max Roach started leading a quintet that would be the trumpeter’s main band for the remainder of his life; the group originally had tenor-saxophonist Harold Land but, after he departed later in 1955, Sonny Rollins was his replacement.

Brown, who wrote such songs as “Joy Spring,” “Daahoud” and “Sandu,” had unlimited potential, but his life was tragically cut short when he and pianist Richie Powell (along with Powell’s wife, who was driving) died in a car accident on June 26, 1956; the trumpeter was just 25.

After his death, Clifford Brown’s sound and style were major influences on such trumpeters as Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw.

Here is the only surviving film footage of Clifford Brown, taken from the Soupy Sales Show in 1955, performing “Lady Be Good” and “Memories Of You.”

-Scott Yanow


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