The line of great jazz trumpeters, young men with a horn, begins with the legendary New Orleans cornetist Buddy Bolden. You can read a brilliantly fictionalized account of his life in Michael Ondaatje’s 1976 novel Coming Through Slaughter.
Although Bolden never recorded and from 1907 until his death in 1931 was institutionalized in a mental hospital, those who heard him agreed that he had great volume, a talent for beautiful ornamentation and a profound feeling for playing the blues on the brass horn.
Bolden’s proto-jazz playing influenced the next generation of players like King Oliver and Freddie Keppard, masters of the four-bar break. It was when Oliver wrote to young Louis Armstrong asking him to leave New Orleans to join his band in Chicago that jazz as we know it was born.
Armstrong himself influenced tens of thousands of musicians directly (and millions indirectly), and among them were dozens of brilliant ‘30s swing trumpeters, veritable gods on earth, like Hot Lips Page, Cootie Williams, Red Allen, Buck Clayton, Jonah Jones, Bill Coleman, Harry Edison, Rex Stewart, Joe Thomas, Ray Nance, Benny Carter, Charlie Shavers, Doc Cheatham and especially Roy Eldridge. Although this list may seem obscure, in a sane world, streets would be named after these artists and their monikers would be more famous than those of presidents.
Eldridge was the link between Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie, between swing and bop. Dizzy even took Roy’s chair in the Cab Calloway orchestra. By the ‘40s, Diz was the leadi ng trumpeter in jazz, the trend setter, and the only alternative styles in bebop were those of Fats Navarro, more directly influenced by saxophonist Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis, who went to Lester Young, Billie Holiday and Thelonious Monk for his ins p iration.
By 1950 Navarro was dead of tuberculosis compounded by his heroin addiction, but he had a successor in his young friend Clifford Brown. Dizzy Gillespie said that Clifford picked up from Fats all the things that he, Dizzy, was not doing with t he trumpet. Clifford Brown will be celebrating his 75th birthday on Oct. 30. That is, he would be celebrating it if he had not been tragically killed in a car crash in 1956 along with pianist Richie Powell, Bud’s younger brother, and Powell’s pregnant wif e Nancy, who was driving.
Clifford had grown up in Wilmington, Delaware and by his late teens was driving to Philadelphia to play with Fats, Dizzy and Bird. Ominously, he lost a year in 1950 when he was hospitalized after a serious auto accident. He firs t recorded in 1952 and was soon included on sessions with the bop arranger Tadd Dameron and drummer Art Blakey.
His greatest recordings were made during the last two years of his life as a member of drummer Max Roach’s quintet along with tenor saxophoni st Sonny Rollins and Powell. This was among the most important jazz combos of all time, the quintessential hard bop band. Here Powell was able to give free rein to his virtuosity, lyricism, gorgeous warm, sweet tone and fluent ideas. For a brief instant t he se giants flashed across the sky, spurring each other on to record perfect extended masterpieces like “Pent-up House,” “Valse Hot” and “I Remember April.” These performances were at once free flights of the imagination and seamlessly coherent creations. T heir emphasis on thematic improvisation changed the direction of jazz.
Following the accident, Max Roach had a virtual nervous breakdown. The remaining members of the quintet went their separate ways. A special moment in jazz history was lost. After Clifford’s death, tenor saxophonist Benny Golson wrote the elegiac “I Remember Clifford” in memory of his late friend. It has since become a jazz standard.
Now, in honor of the diamond anniversary of Clifford’s birth, Golson, a master composer, arranger and performer in his own right, comes to Yoshi’s along with trumpeters Arturo Sandoval, Randy Brecker, Jeremy Pelt and Valery Ponomarev and a rhythm section of the Mulgrew Miller Trio to pay homage to the man who had the most beautiful sound and most inve ntiv e ideas on the trumpet after Louis Armstrong.
The tunes played will be either Clifford’s compositions or from his repertoire, along with pieces like Golson’s elegy that have become associated with Brown. You can also expect a good old-fashioned cutting c ontest to break out when these four top-rated trumpeters take the bandstand together. That would certainly make it a happy birthday for Clifford.
Photograph: Tenor saxophonist Benny Golson wrote “I Remember Clifford” in memory of his late friend.
Clifford Brown 75th Birthday Celebration will be celebrated at Yoshi’s, 510 Embarcadero West, Oakland, Tue., Oct. 25 through Sun., Oct. 30, with shows at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. For more information call 238-9200.