Clifford Brown

Clifford Benjamin Brown[1] (October 30, 1930 June 26, 1956) was an American jazz trumpeter. He died at the age of 25 in a car accident,[2] leaving behind four years' worth of recordings. He was also a composer of note: his compositions "Sandu," "Joy Spring,"[3] and "Daahoud"[4] have become jazz standards.[5]

Clifford Brown
Background information
Birth nameClifford Benjamin Brown
Born(1930-10-30)October 30, 1930
Wilmington, Delaware, United States
DiedJune 26, 1956(1956-06-26) (aged 25)
Bedford, Pennsylvania
GenresJazz, bebop, hard bop
Occupation(s)Musician, composer
Years active1949–1956
Associated actsMax Roach, Harold Land, Lionel Hampton, Sonny Rollins

Brown won the Down Beat critics' poll for New Star of the Year in 1954; he was inducted into the DownBeat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1972 in the critics' poll.[2] He influenced later jazz trumpeters such as Booker Little, Freddie Hubbard, and Lee Morgan.


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.[6]

Brown briefly attended Delaware State University[7] 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.[8] 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.[6] Brown moved into playing music professionally, where he quickly became one of the most highly regarded trumpeters in jazz.[2]

Brown was influenced and encouraged by Fats Navarro,[8] whom he first met at the age of 15, 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,[8] 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.[2]

The clean-living Brown escaped the influence of heroin and alcohol on the jazz world. Brown stayed away from drugs and was not fond of alcohol.[2] Rollins, who was recovering from 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."[9]

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 is presumed to have lost control of the car, which went off the road, killing all three in the resulting crash.[10] Brown is buried in Mt. Zion Cemetery, in Wilmington, Delaware.[11]


On June 26, 1954, in Los Angeles, Brown married Emma LaRue Anderson (maiden; 1933–2005), who he called "Joy Spring," the namesake of one of his compositions. The two had been introduced by Max Roach. They actually celebrated their marriage vows three times, partly because their families were on opposite coasts and partly because of their differing religions – Brown was Methodist and Anderson was Catholic. They were first married in a private ceremony June 26, 1954, in Los Angeles (on Anderson's 21st birthday). They again celebrated their marriage in a religious setting on July 16, 1954 – the certificate being registered in Los Angeles County – and a reception was held at the Tiffany Club where the Art Pepper/Jack Montrose Quintet had been replaced a few days earlier by the Red Norvo Trio with Tal Farlow and Red Mitchell. Then, Anderson's parish priest followed them to Boston, where, on August 1, 1954, they performed their marriage ceremony at Saint Richards Church in the Roxbury neighborhood.[12] They had a son, Clifford Benjamin Brown, Jr. (born 1955).


His nephew, drummer Rayford Griffin (né Rayford Galen Griffin; born 1958), modernized Brown's music on his 2015 album Reflections of Brownie.[13] Brown's grandson, Clifford Benjamin Brown III (born 1982), plays trumpet on one of the tracks, "Sandu".

Benny Golson, who had done a stint in Lionel Hampton's band with Brown, and was a member along with Brown of Tadd Dameron's Big 10, 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 who had yet to record for Blue Note records wrote "Tribute To Brownie", which was recorded by the Cannonball Adderley Quintet on his 1957 album, Sophisticated Swing. It also appeared on an album by trumpeter Louis Smith, Here Comes Louis Smith with Cannonball again on alto saxophone.

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 bandmates of Brown such as Golson and Lou Donaldson and other artists inspired by Brown, including Marcus Belgrave, Terence Blanchard, and John Fedchock.

Spanish film director Jesús Franco often used Clifford Brown as a screen pseudonym in homage to one of his musical heroes.

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 under the direction of Clifford Brown III, Brown's grandson and a respected Bay Area trumpeter and music producer.

In 2014 a campaign was launched to restore Brown's grave site at Mt. Zion Cemetery on Lancaster Pike, just outside the city limits in Wilmington, Delaware.[11]


As leader or co-leader

As sideman

With Art Blakey

With Tadd Dameron

  • A Study In Dameronia (Prestige 159 [10" LP], 1953) part of Prestige Memorial Album

With Lou Donaldson

  • Lou Donaldson/Clifford Brown: New Faces-New Sounds (Blue Note 5030 [10" LP], 1953) part of Blue Note Memorial Album

With Gigi Gryce

  • Gigi Gryce/Clifford Brown Sextet (Blue Note 5048 [10" LP], rec. 1953 in Paris; rel. 1954)
  • Gigi Gryce And His Big Band, Vol. 1 (Blue Note 5049 [10" LP], rec. 1953 in Paris; rel. 1954)
  • Gigi Gryce And His Little Band, Vol. 2 (Blue Note 5050 [10" LP], rec. 1953 in Paris; rel. 1954)

With J. J. Johnson

With Helen Merrill

With Sonny Rollins

With Sarah Vaughan

With Dinah Washington

Selected CD sets

  • The Complete EmArcy Recordings Of Clifford Brown (Verve-Universal, 2013 [UPC: 600753422526]; 10-CD set)
  • Brownie Speaks: The Complete Blue Note Albums (Blue Note-UMe B0020657 02, 2014 [UPC: 602537816125]; 3-CD set) - note: includes all of the material from the six original 10" LP releases: 5028, 5030, 5032, 5037, 5038, 5039, plus 11 alternate takes.
  • Max Roach: Alone Together: The Best of the Mercury Years (Verve 2CD, 1954-60 [1995])


1988: Let's Get Lost – "Joy Spring" and "Daahoud"


  1. Catalano, Nick (2000). Clifford Brown: The Life and Art of the Legendary Jazz Trumpeter. New York, New York: Oxford University Press. p. 9. ISBN 0-19-510083-2.
  2. allmusic Biography
  3. "Jazz Standards Songs and Instrumentals (Joy Spring)". Retrieved June 18, 2012.
  4. "Jazz Standards Songs and Instrumentals (Daahoud)". Retrieved June 18, 2012.
  5. Carr, Ian; Fairweather, Digby; Priestley, Brian (2004). The Rough Guide to Jazz. Rough Guides. pp. 102. ISBN 1-84353-256-5.
  6. Catalano, Nick (2000). Clifford Brown: The Life and Art of the Legendary Jazz Trumpeter. New York, New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 208. ISBN 0-19-510083-2.
  7. Carson, Charles (July 10, 2010). "Clifford Brown's Philadelphia". Scribd. p. 5. Retrieved March 8, 2012.
  8. Rosenthal, David, H. Hard Bop: Jazz and Black Music 1955–1965. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-505869-0.
  9. "Brown, Clifford". Archived from the original on 2013-08-30.
  10. Catalano, Nick (2001-01-01). Clifford Brown: The Life and Art of the Legendary Jazz Trumpeter. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195144000.
  11. "Clifford Brown Jazz Festival, cemetery campaign to begin". delawareonline. Retrieved 2017-04-25.
  12. "Clifford Brown in Los Angeles," by Eddie Spencer Meadows, PhD; born 1939; Black Music Research Journal, published by the Center for Black Music Research, Columbia College Chicago and University of Illinois Press, Vol. 31, No. 1, Spring 2011, pps. 45–63; JSTOR; OCLC 729620529, 6733333114, 778359559; ISSN 0276-3605


  • Nick Catalano, Clifford Brown: The Life and Art of the Legendary Jazz Trumpeter (Oxford University Press, 2001)
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