Top 50 JAzz Blog

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Clifford Brown Phenomenon

Marking the births or deaths of artists usually happens in "big" years-the 10th, 25th, etc. It's different with Clifford Brown, whose passing is marked even in the "small" years, as in this, the 82nd anniversary of his birth.
Clifford was indisputably one of our greatest trumpet players, but it's not his playing that explains the hold he has on our psyche, especially compared to the emotional connection we feel to other greats from the late 40's to late 60's era, like Fats Navarro, Sonny Berman, Kenny Dorham, Blue Mitchell, Lee Morgan, Booker Little. 

We have plucked Clifford out of this group because we want to celebrate the fact that in Clifford, musical genius managed to coexist with an open, humble and yes, sweet personality.

In a recent post, I said that Clifford didn't have "it," as defined by a player's reputation outweighing his musical contribution. But observing the Clifford phenomenon, it becomes clear that he sits in a singular category of "it-ness;" one not rooted in flashy personal style or the charisma of the bad boy. He was the rare soul in jazz who could play it straight and still be the best; who wouldn't let the harsh road and escapes from same (drugs, booze, promiscuity, overbearing ego) run roughshod over his innate gentleness.

The fact that this seems to be a rare personality constellation in the most elite realms of music-and art in general-is vaguely disconcerting, summoning up as it does all those hoary adages about the tortured genius. We'll not soon escape that labyrinth of romanticism (one corner of which is "it-itude"), so for the moment let's just celebrate a joyous spring of relief from such burdens:


The LondonJazz site said...

Steve a typo I'm sure mean "of his birth" in the first para

Steve Provizer said...


Yes, thanks. his dates were: October 30, 1930 – June 26, 1956.

Matt Lavelle said...

Hi Steve!

Brownie had the previous car accident that had him in bed for months with a giant scar.A struggle to triumph over,but mos def not the standard addiction vibe.I wonder about the impact,and different pathway.It's so dark that it was again a car accident that ended his life.Booker Little was another soul that didn't need drugs as far as I know.All the greats trumpets had important female relationships..maybe that's something else for us to explore.

Steve Provizer said...

Hi Matt,

Yes, there were certainly a lot of players who avoided the trap. As far as the women go-of course, all us trumpet players are catnip to the ladies...