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Artist Profile: Trumpeter Clifford Brown


Clifford Brown Jazz Trumpet
Courtesy of Emarcy Records

October 30th, 1930 in Wilmington, Delaware


June 26th, 1956

Short Career, Immeasurable Impact

Trumpeter Clifford Brown was 25 years old when he was killed in a car accident on the way to a gig in 1956. However, during the four years of his recording career, he put out some of the most famous jazz recordings ever. His technical agility, combined with heartfelt expression, made his the defining sound of the style known as hard bop.

Born in Wilmington Delaware in 1930, Clifford Brown began playing the trumpet when he was 13 years old. By his early 20s, inspired by Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Fats Navarro, Brown soaked up bebop well enough to perform with Art Blakey, Lionel Hampton, and other well known musicians. Brown’s early style can be heard on Blakey’s 1954 album A Night at Birdland, Vol. 1.

In 1953, Max Roach, who was considered one of the premier bebop drummers, asked Brown to join his band. The two began a legendary partnership that produced the albums Clifford Brown and Max Roach (1955), and Study In Brown (1955), among others. In 1954, Brown performed with Sarah Vaughan on Sarah Vaughan. After his death, the album was re-issued as Sarah Vaughan with Clifford Brown.

Brown’s phenomenal playing, as well as his straight and narrow lifestyle, earned him celebrity in the jazz world at a very young age. His sobriety was uncommon in jazz at the time, and his focus and discipline presented a contrast from the sort of drug-fueled life that the iconic Charlie Parker espoused.

On June 26th, 1956, Brown was on his way to Chicago from Philadelphia for a gig with Roach. He was accompanied by Richie Powell, the pianist in the group, and Powell’s wife Nancy drove them. In the early morning hours, she lost control of the car, and all three were killed.

Although Brown’s career was cut so tragically short, he created a significant recorded output, and as a result, he continues to influence jazz musicians today.

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