I Remember Clifford

La Rue Brown Watson


“When I met Clifford, I was a music snob. I was writing my thesis in which I was trying to prove that jazz was not a form of art. Clifford and I debated the subject often. Can you believe I actually told Clifford Brown that he could not play? I even strongly recommended that he stick to ballads and the Raphael Mendez songs that he used to practice breathing and fingering. Clifford was patient with me but stuck to his belief in the music. In order to break the stalemate, I decided to take him to visit my music (classical of course) teacher. I was sure he could convince Clifford that the fast paced, dissonant racket was not music. When my teacher answered the door, he said, “Is this who I think it is?” He hugged Clifford and took him inside. I was left standing on the porch…crushed!! When I went inside, I asked my teacher if he knew of Clifford and what he thought of his playing. His answer was “This man is a musical genius! You don’t understand the complexity of this music. Your music is formal, structured, this music is pure soul, free flowing.” In a state of total disbelief, I started to really listen to the music. I asked Clifford questions and finally I was able to hear MUSIC. I also discovered that when Max Roach said Cliff was beautiful, he was not  referring to physical beauty. He had recognized the beauty that dwelled within and exuded from him.

“Another shocker happened during the time Clifford was educating me. We found that we not only respected each other and shared a valuable friendship, we were also in love.

One starlit evening we went to Santa Monica Beach. Clifford was playing with the sounds of the Pacific Ocean accompanying him. The music was lovely! The tune was one that he had just written and I was hearing for the first time. He called it “LaRue”. He asked me to marry his music and him.”

Liner notes, The Complete Blue Note and Pacific Jazz Recordings of Clifford Brown (Mosaic Records)


Leonard Feather


” Clifford was born Oct. 30, 1930, in Wilmington, Del., he received his first trumpet from his father upon entering senior high school in 1945, and joined the school band shortly afterward. It was not until a year or so later that the mysterious world of jazz chord changes and improvisation began to shed its veil for Brownie. A talented musician and jazz enthusiast named Robert Lowery was credited by Brownie for the unveiling.

“The teen-aged trumpeter began playing gigs in Philadelphia after in graduating in 1948. That same year, he entered Delaware State College on a music scholarship, but there was one slight snag; the college happened to be momentarily short of a music department.

“Brownie remained there a year anyway, majoring in mathematics, and taking up a little spare time by playing some Philadelphia dates with such preeminent bop figures as Kenny Dorham, Max Roach, J. J. Johnson and Fats Navarro. He acquired considerable inspiration and encouragement from Navarro., who was greatly impressed by the youngster’s potential.

“After the year at Delaware State, Brownie had a chance to enter a college that did boast a good music program, namely Maryland State. They also had a good 16-piece band, and he learned a lot about both playing and arranging. One evil evening in June 1950, when, on his way home from a gig, he was involved in the first of three automobile accidents, the last of which was to prove fatal.

“For a whole year in 1950-51, Clifford Brown had plenty of opportunity for contemplation, but precious little for improving his lip. It took just about a year, plus some verbal encouragement from Dizzy Gillespie, to set him back on the path from which he had been so rudely sideswiped.

“He had his own group in Philly for a while, then joined the Chris Powell combo, with which he was working at Cafe Society when the [6/9/53] date with Lou Donaldson was cut. There followed a stint with Tadd Dameron in Atlantic City, after which he joined Lionel Hampton, touring Europe with him until the fall of 1953. In 1954 Brownie won the Down Beat critics’ poll as the new star of the year. Moving out to California, he formed an alliance with Max Roach that was to last until death broke up the team.”

Liner notes, Memorial Album (Blue Note BST 81526)



Benny Golson


“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 we came off the stage. After the intermission, everyone was preparing to return to the stage. Suddenly, Walter Davis, Jr. ran on stage 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.”


Liner notes, Jams 2 (EmArcy 195 J 2), by Kiyoshi Koyama


Quincy Jones


“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.”


Liner notes, Jams 2 (EmArcy 195 J 2), by Kiyoshi Koyama



Harold Land


“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.”


Liner notes, Clifford Brown in Paris (Prestige PR 24020)



Michael Cuscuna


“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.


Liner notes, Alternate Takes (Blue Note BST 84428)



Donaldson (Donald) T. Byrd




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 s


12 Responses

  1. Moon Brown says:

    Clifford and my father were good friends in Philly. His wife LaRue told me that at our house, Clifford would put me on his lap and play his horn. I don’t remember as I was 2 years old. But it explains to me why I was listening to Jazz at the age of 10, while others listened to Motown and such. At 13 I was motivated to play trumpet and joined the school band. After a few frustrating months of practice, I gave up the trumpet and took up saxophone. Still Playing the Sax. Thanks, Clifford.

  2. Wynton Marsalis says:

    Happy Birthday Clifford
    by Wynton Marsalis

    I became serious about playing the trumpet at age 12. My teacher was John Longo. At our first lesson he played two albums: the Chicago Symphony’s performance of Ravel-Mussorgsky’s ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ (Adolph Herseth principal trumpet) and Clifford Brown with Strings. “Lil brother, that’s what a trumpet should sound like.”

    I listened to that Clifford w Strings everyday and learned every note on it. Basin Street and Brown and Roach Inc. and anything with Clifford is inspirational. His sound has such warmth, clarity, and pure intelligence–humanity. You have to love him. We have a picture of Branford at about 2yrs old in diapers holding a copy of Clifford and Max on Basin Street. In high school Book and I loved to play Powell’s Prances and I loved Time and Sweet Clifford and Joy Spring and everything. Damn! Clifford can play.

    Those recordings were rare in the early 70’s. I remember my high school band director, George Marks (he was a trumpet player), borrowed my fathers Clifford and Max records. He didn’t want to give them back! He said, “listening to these are like finding treasure.” Yeah. Even though the music is available everywhere now, it is still treasure. Clifford’s son Clifford Jr. is a pure credit to his memory and one of the greatest friends jazz has ever had. He brings a feeling and a soul to every occasion. His way of being extends his father’s lyrical legacy of kindness (the most eloquent of all human actions). Every note from Clifford’s horn is a gem. I love him and everyone who loves music loves him.

    Happy Birthday Clifford.

    Yeah. Keep playing.

    • Alex McKinnon says:


      On behalf of other jazz fans in my circle of friends and family, I wanted to say that your observations on Clifford and his music are just like your own music and your quote above “like finding treasure.” It is difficult to put into words, but Clifford’s, your, and others such as Charlie Parker’s music help many non-musicians who are not capable of performing such amazing notes, nonetheless fully enjoy the beauty and deep emotions that only the finest jazz conjurs up. God Bless all of you for the incalcuable value and joy that your beautiful music provides so many of us!

      As you are still so very young, we look forward to enjoying your music for many years to come.

  3. Valerie Takacs says:

    While I am merely a fan of Clifford Brown, and not a jazz great like the rest of the folks here, I CAN say that I have been listening to Clifford all of my life. My father played tenor sax in a local big band many moons ago, and we always had jazz discs playing in the house. Clifford was one of my day’s favorites, and I have carried the torch to this day. His album with strings has always been one of my favorites, and I wore out my vinyl copy of the jam session he did with Dinah Washington, Maynard and CT. I was glad they released that one on CD!!

    I am happy to see that the CBJF is preserving the legacy of a life that was cut short much too soon, and that Clifford will live on for generations to come.

    Happy Birthday Clifford, I will ALWAYS remember you!!

    • Fard Bell says:

      Though I never had the privilege of meeting the late great Clifford Brown, the 1st time I heard and felt his soul flow through his trumpet I was 15 or 16 years old and I said a prayer – “Lord, let me express myself like that one day”… More than 15 years later I’m still praying that prayer! Happy Birthday Clifford… You still continue to inspire me!

  4. Leslie Ann Silver says:

    Clifford and LaRue were my God parents. I was too young to know him. LaRue told me many stories as did my parents. His music is timeless. I love when I meet musicians and I tell them he was my Godfather, they love to tell me what his music meant to them. It will live forever.

  5. Helen Merrill says:

    Last time I saw Clifford it was backstage at a Jazz club and he said to me,”Helen, I want you to see something” He pulled out his wallet an showed me a photo of his new little baby..Clifford Jr.

    The recording I made with Clifford shows the warmth and sensitvity which he had in abundance..always listening and responding to what I performed, with grace and great beauty..
    I was recording with Gil Evans when we heard the bad news…the music stopped and no one could continue playing..He was so beloved..

  6. Rich Pulin says:

    I am eternally proud to have been commissioned in 1977 by the late LaRue Brown to write the lyrics to Clifford’s great melody, “La Rue”..
    It is one of the outstanding honors in my life and career to have been the only musical writing collaborator, be it posthumous, with the great
    Clifford Brown!

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