Clifford Brown was born in Wilmington, Delaware on the 30th of October 1930. Brown began playing a trumpet his father gave him in early high school, and by his late teens was playing in collage and other youth bands. Throughout high school he studied jazz harmony and theory, trumpet, vibes, piano, and bass with Robert Lowery. At this time he was attracting the attention of many lead players such as Fats Navarro, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. Brown had his opportunity to play with many of these great musicians, but formed a close relationship with Fats Navarro who became his mentor. By the end of the ‘40s he had won a scholarship to study music at the University of Maryland, and in 1950 he was involved in a car accident that was quite serious, and put him in the hospital from June of that year until May of 1951. Shortly after the accident Brown recorded with Chris Powell and Tadd Dameron from 1952 ‘till 1953.
In autumn 1953, Brown was a member of the Lionel Hampton and went on tour in Europe and North Africa. On this tour the band drew considerable attention because of the high level of talent in the band. Even thought it was against the contract that each band member signed, many of the musicians moonlighted on various recordings and in particular Brown was singled out for many of these sessions. After the tour was over and the band returned to the USA, Brown, along with most of the rest of the band, was fired when Hampton found out about the recordings.
In 1954 Brown joined Art Blakey and teamed up with Max Roach to form the Clifford Brown-Max Roach Quintet. This group was quickly noted as on of the most outstanding contempory jazz combos. They recorded for labels such as: Blue Note, Prestige, EmArcy, GNP, and Pacific Jazz. This was also the point in time where Brown became well-recognized trumpet player in the USA and as a composer.
In June 1956, after a late night gig Brown was travelling to another engagement at the Blue Note in Chicago with Richie Powell and his wife; all were killed in a car accident. Brown was only 26 years old at the time of his death.
The death of many musicians, and others, has led to the creation of legends. In many cases the legend greatly exceeds the reality, and speculation on what might have happened comes more form the imagination of the person accounting rather than the hard evidence. In the case of Clifford Brown the legend is very difficult to refute. The Encyclopedia of Popular Music says
At a time when many modern jazz trumpeters sought technical expertise at the expense of tone, Brown, in common with his friend and paradigm, Navarro, had technique to spare but also developed a rich full and frequently beautiful tone. At the same time, whether playing at scorching tempos or on languorous ballads, his range was exhaustive…in all his work, Brown displayed the rare combination of supreme intelligence and great emotional depths.
Although Brown’s career was brief, his influence carried on with Lee Morgan and later in the playing styles of Freddie Hubbard. His style of soloing and the consistent use of a small portion of vibrato allows him to be distinguished from that of Diz, Miles and others. His style is not widely recognized outside of an interested jazz listening audience, but to those who like jazz, they cannot help but be impressed with Brown’s unique sound and immense talent.