Clifford Brown and the Great Tree


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By Matt Lavelle

Hearing the opening of the Clifford Brown birthday broadcast on WKCR at midnight this past Saturday,a 30 hour marathon,got me to reflect again on what I call the trumpet brotherhood,.and Clifford Brown's towering place inside of it.In 2010 it's hard to find members of the brotherhood,.but we still exist.Of course We all start with Louis Armstrong who passed on when I was four years old.You can really chart the progression of the Trumpet in Jazz through members of the brotherhood.Clifford Brown was no different than a COMET who quickly passed through to display what we could be,and then moved on to a place of higher vibration that some of us try to reach when we engage the horn.Clifford was saying of course that we can be Comets ourselves,.not knowing that people would be learning his solos for years and years as an attempted stairway to the stars.

The first time I saw JOY SPRING on paper I was presented with a mountain I didn't even have a map to find,.much less climb.I couldn't even play the melody much less that graceful D# above the staff that he uses in such a beautiful lyrical way.Just by looking at the notes on paper I learned that you don't have to go Maynard when you go upstairs.Lee Morgan,.who was great friends with Clifford,.reinforced this with another tune that kicked my ass for years,.CEORA.These kind of tunes have always found me over the years,.tunes that reveal your weaknesses or strengths.Playing the changes to GROOVIN' HIGH always bugged me out.(Ornette freed me from this drama,.but presented me with bigger problems that were more important and difficult to solve).

Right in those songs however,.you can see connections inside the Jazz trumpet brotherhood,.or what I also call the great TREE.Many of us see the Tree in different ways.I used to argue with my friend,and great trumpet player,Gilbert Castellanos that FATS came right out of DIZZY,.and he insisted that it was Dizzy that came from Fats.I'm still not sure who influenced who more,.but I do know they both had simply incredible conceptions and original sounds that make most players today little branches all the way at the top of the tree,.which can only grow so far right? (heh)

Many agree that Fats was a big influence on Clifford,.although it's always been hard for me to see since I gravitate towards Clifford so much more,by way of Lee,Booker Little,Thad Jones,Nat Adderley,Woody Shaw,Freddie Hubbard,Hannibal,Donald Ayler,Don Cherry,Raphe,and Roy Campbell Jr.I've never been into Donald Byrd,.who to me always sounds like a branch on the Clifford tree.What bugs me out is that Clifford was playing so much incredible music at such a young age.My favorite Lee Morgan is when he was not yet TWENTY.What is it about firing off these lines at that time of your life? It was a different time for sure,.but I'm always trying to find that EXUBERANCE,.even if I've been working all day(Some times a large Bodega Coffee helps,.but that's all I do).I'm 40 and have all ready out lived Clifford,Fats,Booker,Lee,Bird,and Eric Dolphy.I've often mused that they played their life's music while they were here.They all have recorded musical legacies standing the test of time many years later.

Clifford again,.didn't need no SMACK to elevate.His music is so Human.I hear the struggle,.the honesty,.the Holy Blues.(My strength). Clifford had everything so many can't find today in this fallen world.(Props to Larry Roland for using his way of describing today's environment).I aspire to reach the highest levels of expression that Clifford Brown reached for every time he played,.seemingly without an ounce of FEAR.The first time I met Sonny Rollins I had nothing to say on trumpet,.but I knew I could ask him about Clifford who was an inspiration to find a voice.I'll never forget his EMOTIONAL reaction when I asked him about Clifford Brown not as a musician,.but as a human being.Sonny Rollins told me that Clifford was an example of the payoff of HARD WORK.Sonny said that Clifford's dedication to practice and getting better every day was a genuine and real path to reach the top of the mountain.I've seen this level of dedication in the masters,.something they never relinquish.I once played with Ornette for 8 hours straight,.and he was playing FULL BORE.I understand that Sonny still plays 5 hours a day.I've never accepted weekend warrior status myself and will work on music at least 2 hours a day no matter how many hours I worked that day.

Translation:No rest,.this is LIFE.You never know when your done,.just ask Clifford.

I read that at Louis Armstrong's memorial or funeral,.maybe even before he passed,.that Dizzy Gillespie said of Louis,:"No YOU,.no ME.."

As a trumpet player in 2010,.I can't separate myself from the great tree before me.I can just try to be my own branch.Some folks are planting new tree's which I can respect.How do you plant a tree with no seeds though? What if the soil is messed up and you cant TAKE ROOT? Some folks smoke trees.Even if I planted my own,..MILES would stop by and ask me what I was doing that for.

“Hey Miles,.you need a Bass Clarinet?"

Happy Birthday Clifford.Sorry you left so soon.Your LIGHT is still burning BRIGHT.One of the TRUE Kings.You and Max together again! Can you send some Love to 2010?



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This story appears courtesy of Brilliant Corners, a Boston Jazz Blog.
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