Clifford Brown in Los Angeles

By Meadows, Eddie S. | Black Music Research Journal, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

Clifford Brown in Los Angeles


Meadows, Eddie S., Black Music Research Journal


Throughout its history, jazz has been chronicled as both a southern-midwestern-eastern U.S. phenomenon and an art form centered primarily in New Orleans, Chicago, and New York City. Los Angeles, on the other hand, is often portrayed as a city that has both exported and imported talented jazz artists. Except for West Coast jazz, which is identified with the region rather than the city, rarely is Los Angeles acknowledged as a setting that stimulated innovations or new developments. Within this context, West Coast jazz musicians have been marginalized, except those like Don Cherry, Eric Dolphy, Dexter Gordon, Hampton Hawes, Frank Morgan, and Charles Mingus who left Los Angeles to achieve greatness on the East Coast. Jazz artists native to Los Angeles (e.g., Buddy Collette) or those who migrated and permanently settled in the city (e.g., Horace Silver) have been recognized but seldom are featured or highlighted in jazz scholarship.

This essay is unique in that it does not focus on someone who is native to the city nor does it deal with a longtime resident. Rather, it chronicles the impact that trumpeter Clifford Brown's (1930-56) historic March to August 30, 1954, stay in Los Angeles had on his life and jazz career. Specifically, I focus on the events that led to the LaRue Anderson (1933-2005) and Clifford Brown marriage,1 the founding of the Clifford Brown-Max Roach Quintet, and Brown's recordings with several Los Angeles-based jazz musicians. Before delving into Brown's time in Los Angeles, I present a concise overview of his musical life before he arrived.

Birth and Formative Years

Clifford Brown was born in Wilmington, Delaware, on October 30, 1930, and died in a car accident near Bedford, Pennsylvania, on June 26, 1956. He received his first trumpet in 1945 and played in his high school band, at which time he began studying jazz chord changes and improvisation from musician and jazz enthusiast Robert Lowery. After graduating from high school in 1948, Brown gigged around Philadelphia before entering Delaware State College on a music scholarship. Since the college did not have a music department, Brown studied mathematics, while simultaneously learning more about music (his first love) by playing with musicians who influenced him considerably. He performed with Max Roach, J. J. Johnson, Kenny Dorham, and Fats Navarro when they toured Philadelphia or when he took short visits to New York City.

With another music scholarship, Brown transferred to Maryland State College, which had a music department. There he continued to learn about playing and arranging jazz. Also, it was during this time that he "sat in" (i.e., performed) with Dizzy Gillespie's big band when trumpeter Benny Harris appeared late for a gig. Thereafter, his career thrived. However, in June 1950, he experienced a setback when injuries from the first of three car accidents forced him to spend a year in the hospital.

After his recovery, Brown returned to jazz partly because of the encouragement he received from Gillespie. While living in Philadelphia, Brown formed his own group and began playing in Chris Powell's rhythm-and-blues band, the Blue Flames, at the Cafe Society. During this period, Brown made his first Blue Note recording as a sideman with Lou Donaldson. In addition, he gigged with Tadd Dameron in Atlantic City and, in fall 1953, joined Lionel Hampton's big band for a European tour. While in Europe, Brown collaborated with George General "Gigi" Gryce, also a member of Hampton's band, and recorded with several Parisian jazz musicians. In December 1953, Brown left the Hampton band and freelanced on the East Coast, performing a short time with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. In 1954, Brown's star continued to rise when he won the Downbeat Critics Poll for the new star of the year. After a meeting with Max Roach and deciding to accept his invitation to become coleader of a new quintet that Roach was forming in Los Angeles, the stage was set for a confluence of events that would relocate Roach to Los Angeles, allow LaRue Anderson to meet Roach, provide an opportunity for Roach to introduce her to Clifford Brown, and enable Brown to record with several Los Angeles-based jazz artists. …

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