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Monday, May 10, 2010

Clifford Brown - Trumpeter's Training

by HOLLIE WEST, Downbeat Magazine, July 1980

Of the untold gifted trumpeters who died young and tragically, Clifford Brown is probably the one whose death seems most absurd. He did not singlemindedly destroy himself in the manner of Beiderbecke, Berigan, Berman and Navarro. Nor did he daily fatally with the tempestuous emotions of another person as Lee Morgan did. And he did not endure a long and painful illness like Joe Smith and Booker Little. Brown's death. in an automobile crash in June, 1956, came in a flash. Not yet at the peak of his performing power, he was struck down at age 25 without warning. in the flower of his brief and brilliant career. People mourned him rot only because of his lustrous achievement but also for his youth and promise.

Almost a quarter of a century after his death, Brown's influence lives in the playing of Freddie Hubbard, Carmell Jones, Woody Shaw, Charles Tolliver, Randy Brecker and Tom Brown (Morgan was also a disciple). But no other trumpeter has extended the brass tradition beyond where Brown took it. His tone was luminous and broad. He had the mobility of a saxophonist and played with a tremendously audacious power in all registers. What's more, he drew from a deep reservoir of ideas.

In his autobiography, To Be Or Not To Bop, Dizzy Gillespie includes Brown in the small group of trumpeters whom he sees as having shaped the jazz brass tradition -- Buddy Bolden, King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge, Gillespie, Fats Navarro, Miles Davis and Brown. Reacting to the idea that Brown's career was too brief for such company, Gillespie said: "Clifford Brown was gifted. And he established a new style, a way of playing the trumpet that was a little different from what we were doing before."

Brown also attracted the attention of classical trumpeters. Gerard Schwarz, former co-principal trumpeter of the New York Philharmonic, said Brown was his favorite jazz trumpeter.

"I admired a number of things about him," Schwarz said. "His sound really got to me. I thought it was one of the most gorgeous sounds I ever heard. It was a fat, rich, beautiful sound. And the musical ideas seemed so strong to me. It seemed so right, everything that he did."

Brown's playing was a synthesis of elements from the Gillespie, Navarro and Davis styles. However, he forged these disparate parts into a highly personal approach. characterized by a percussive attack, long, circuitous phrases and a bubbly lyricism.

Two albums released in the last year, Art Blakey: Live Messengers (Blue Note BN-LA473-52) and Clifford Brown And Max Roach Live At The Bee Hive (Columbia JG 35965), demonstrate the evolution of his style.

The Blakey album, recorded in 1953, shows Brown at his most percussive (and in the company of one of the hardest driving drummers). The trumpeter's phrasing is taut and staccato. But by the time of the second recording, late 1955, Brown had become more lyrical. He also had begun to diversify his attack and delivery, sometimes to a nonpareil degree. In an eight minute tour de force on Hot House, Brown brings together all the modernist elements he has assimilated. He is graceful and dulcet, grandiose and powerful. His solo is a model of virtuoso trumpet playing.

Brown, 25 when he recorded the solo, was the technical equal of any trumpeter. How did he achieve such highly finished technique when his formal brass training was limited primarily to high school lessons? The evidence suggests that his family background, natural ability and personal drive were determining factors.

Brown's sister, Rella Bray, a reading specialist in the Camden, NJ, school system, said their father was a self-taught musician and kept several instruments around their home in Wilmington, Delaware. Brown took up the bugle as 5 youngster. At age 12, his father took him to Robert Lowery, a Wilmington bandleader and teacher, who, like George E. Lee in St. Louis and Lloyd Reese in Los Angeles, tutored a stream of music students who eventually became recognized artists.

Lowery calls his teaching method "the Classes." The method teaches students to hear chord changes and to improvise on the basis of what they have heard. "I didn't start him [Brown] in a book," said Lowery, who still lives and teaches in Wilmington. "I taught him how to hear. The most important thing is to be able to hear. I know lots of guys who've been to college, but they don't have what it takes to improvise. They can't hear. You've got to be able to hear things before you do them."

So early in the lessons Lowery started Brown practicing chord changes and listening to them on the piano. "'The Classes' give you the freedom to execute and develop a style," Lowery explained. "It gives you a chance to know what you want to do."

After studying with Lowery for three years and playing in his mentor's dance band for a while, Brown moved on to his most important trumpet teacher, Harry Andrews, band and choral director at Howard High School (at that time the city's black secondary school).

Primarily classically oriented, Andrews had fronted a jazz band in Europe during World War II. He had also just returned from advanced academic work, including brass study, at the University of Michigan. Andrews was to be the force in Brown's life which many other fledgling jazzmen have encountered: the teacher who transmits the European music tradition and provides a link between the jazz and classical lines, enabling the jazzmen to use the formal techniques for his own end.

"Clifford had had some experience in a local Elks band when he came to our school," Andrew's remembered, "I started him on the Prescott System, which is based on Arban's Method [for cornet). We used the Arban book to teach the Prescott System. One of the exercises, for example, was to play 16 or 32 bars its one breath. We put a maximum of eight weeks to work on an exercise.

"I also introduced him to the non-pressure system. He had been using a lot of pressure in putting his lips to the mouthpiece. I also remember that he had an excellent embouchure. He put two-thirds of his lower lip in the mouthpiece.

"He perfected making octave jumps very early. Sometimes on certain marches in parades, he'd play an octave above the rest of the trumpets. And he developed a very beautiful range.

"When he came to us, he was a good intermediate trumpet player. But he played The Carnival of Venice as his graduation solo, and I mean he really played it. I can still remember him playing it.

"He had great drive. Many times I'd be cleaning up my desk after school and he'd stick his head in and ask if I had time for another lesson. And we'd go to it.

"After his first car accident, he couldn't play trumpet. So he switched to piano for a while, and he played very well for a guy who was just starting. I don't mean he was an Erroll Garner. One day I went by a little club where he was playing piano at a jam session, some of his friends were playing, and he didn't want to play while I was there. He said, 'Mr, Andrews, I get so nervous when you listen to me.'

"But he was ahead of me. He knew polytonality. He played all those little grace notes. From the beginning in high school, he was very Gillespie-oriented. He took our small theory class and started developing some jazz arrangements for the band."

Andrews, who later became supervisor of music for the Wilmington public schools, said Brown used to come back after graduation for consultation on the non-pressure system.

After high school, Brown studied at Maryland State and Delaware State colleges. Some say the musical influences at both schools were minimal.

Perhaps his next significant non-jazz influence was LaRue Anderson, who was to become his wife. A music student at the University of California, she became interested in jazz for a thesis on the psychology of music. In doing research, she met Charlie Parker and Max Roach. They thought she and Brown would make excellent companions.

"They talked me into meeting him," she said. "I was at the airport when he first came to California. We hit it off right away, but I still had lots of reservations about jazz. We used to go out on the beach late at night after he'd leave the club and he would play his horn and talk to me about jazz."

His daily warm-up exercise started with an inverted whistle. He would pucker his lips inside out and whistle. Then he'd blow his mouthpiece. After an hour or so of these exercises, he would take up his trumpet.

His widow said she's written about these memories in a forthcoming biography, Brownie's Eyes. And she added that she has separate tapes of him playing with Charlie Parker, Sonny Stitt and Teddy Edwards that are the equal of or better than the Bee Hive sessions.

"He was a tremendous guy," she said. "A gentle and kind person and a fine musician. Music was his life. Before we got married, he told me that if I married him I was marrying his horn.

"Guys are always coming by the house [she still lives in Los Angeles] wanting to talk about him. Young people especially ask all kinds of questions about him. They want to know how' he practiced, what kind of horn he used, if he smoked dope -- all kinds of things. It was mainly their questions that influenced me to write a book. I want to show' that he still lives in people's minds and hearts,"

She's right. The force of his musical personality still wins devotion and respect. It can be measured not only in the number of trumpeters playing like him, but also in the regular concert tributes paid to him. His peers know his value.

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