Trumpeter Clifford Brown is best remembered for the groundbreaking hard-bop albums he made with Max Roach for EmArcy Records starting in August 1954 and ending with his tragic death in June 1956.
Often overlooked, however, are the recordings Brown made as a sideman during the summer and fall of 1953. Like the EmArcy dates, these sessions are dynamic and cutting-edge—but for very different reasons.
Over the course of nine days—between June 11 and October 15, 1953—Brown recorded with different bands under the direction or influence of Tadd Dameron, Gigi Gryce and Quincy Jones (the photo on the right is of Brown and Gryce in Paris in 1953).
At the time, all three jazz musicians—Dameron, Gryce and Jones—were pioneering a new sophisticated harmonic sound influenced by Miles Davis' "Birth of the Cool" recordings. But their version of cool was much tougher than the laid-back, West Coast interpretation being advanced by Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker.
The East Coast leveraging of cool was more melodically complex and musically urgent than the Hollywood approach, which relied on contrapuntal minimalism. All you have to do is listen to Gigi Gryce's staggeringly pretty Keeping Up With Jonesy from 1953 to hear the sizable changes taking place. In Brown's hands, East Coast cool would become hard bop within a year.
In the summer of 1953, Brownie was at the right place at the right time after extensive healing following a horrible college auto accident in 1950. The crash left Brown with two broken legs, and he was in a full-body cast for months while undergoing skin and bone grafts. Released in May 1951, Brown spent the next year trying to regain his trumpet playing skills.
In 1953 Brown joined Tadd Dameron's group, which featured Idrees Sulieman on trumpet, Herb Mullins on trombone, Gigi Gryce on alto saxophone, Benny Golson on tenor, Oscar Estelle on baritone, Dameron on piano, Percy Heath on bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums. The band recorded four beautiful Dameron originals for Prestige on June 11—Philly J.J., Choose Now, Dial B for Beauty and Theme of No Repeat.
Later that summer, Quincy Jones, who was playing trumpet in Lionel Hampton's band, slipped away with Art Farmer and other musicians in New Jersey to jam with members of Dameron's group. After the session, he convinced Hampton to hire Brown, Gryce and Golson away from Dameron, which Hampton did.
In a 1961 interview by Barbara Gardener for Down Beat magazine, Art Farmer recalled the summer of 1953:
" '[Clifford Brown] was in Atlantic City with Tadd Dameron and I was in Wildwood, N.J., with Hamp. One night Quincy Jones, Jimmy Cleveland, and some of the fellows from Hamp's band drove over to Atlantic City after work.
We ended up having a session at the Club Harlem which lasted until 9 or 10 in the morning. No one played but the rhythm section and I guess almost all the trumpet players in that area. There were at least six of us, and Brownie was really pushing. You can't imagine what an experience that was.'
This was only the beginning of the Farmer vs. Brown relationship. Farmer remembers the fall of '53 wryly: 'Brownie, along with Benny Golson, came into Hamp's band. Hamp goes for battles, so this was his chance for a never-ending trumpet battle between Brownie and me. Although I felt that Brownie was the better player, I couldn't just be content to let him make a foil of me.'
Then Farmer added, with steely eye and a brief, reluctant smile, 'So I think there were some very interesting nights. In fact, every night was very interesting.' "
In the fall of 1953, Brown—now a member of Hampton's band—left for a tour of Europe and North Africa. Before they left, Hampton reminded the band of his rule against making records on the side. The practice was common among musicians in big bands who wanted to earn extra cash and a name for themselves during their down time. The problem for band leaders, of course, was the risk of losing their biggest stars if the sideline records became hits.
Despite Hampton's firm directive, Brown, Jones, Farmer, Gryce, trombonist Jimmy Cleveland and alto saxophonist Anthony Ortega slipped out of hotels in Stockholm and Paris to record with local jazz musicians. The recordings turned up on European labels—Metronome and Vogue—and the new sound made them all instant stars.
According to a 2002 obituary of Lionel Hampton in The Independent of London:
"[Hampton's] 1953 band came to Europe, and it included the young trumpeter Clifford Brown, by then a jazz phenomenon, although Hampton seemed not to notice. Under the iron fist of Gladys Hampton, the musicians were instructed that they were not allowed to record unless under Lionel's leadership. A guard was placed in the lobby of their Paris hotel to prevent any recalcitrant sidemen from escaping.
In the middle of one night, Clifford Brown and Quincy Jones left by a rear bedroom window and went to a studio where Brown cut a batch of recordings which were to change the face of jazz trumpet playing. Presumably they also supplemented the measly number of dollars which had escaped from Gladys's fist as salary."
What's amazing about all of these 1953 sessions is that you can hear clearly the contributions and influences of each artist.
You can hear the emergence of Brown's confident trumpet style as well as the fluttering runs that would become a hallmark of his sound. You can hear Quincy Jones' early wide-body arranging skills. You can hear Gigi Gryce's bold, sensual songwriting and arranging style in Minority, Salute to the Band Box, Strictly Romantic, Quick Step and many others. And you can hear Tadd's catchy songs and powdery charts that would reach full flower three years later on the album Fontainebleau.
And Brown is in the thick of all these talents—his jazz sensibilities and soul being marinated by some of the most innovative young composers and arrangers of the day.
I like to think of these sessions as Birth of the Hard Bop—Brown's, Dameron's, Gryce's and Jones' response to Miles Davis' Birth of the Cool.
JazzWax tracks: All of the dates mentioned above can be found here, on Clifford Brown: Complete Metronome & Vogue Master Takes (Definitive Classics).
I recommend the Definitive Classics two-CD set, since you'll get all of Brown's dates during this critical 1953 period.
Each song is a gem and way ahead of its time, especially when you consider that in the summer of 1953 Charlie Parker was recording sides that would eventually fill out the Verve album Now's the Time. Hardly a bad album by Bird but not nearly as ahead of the curve as these Clifford Brown sides.
A significant change was occurring in jazz in 1953. Fortunately the shift was captured on these Clifford Brown sessions.