Trumpeter Clifford Brown and saxophonist Lou Donaldson in 1955Metronome/Getty

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.

It’s hard to believe that Clifford Brown lived just 25 years. In his short run, he remade American music more times, and more lastingly, than almost all trumpeters of any genre or generation, and he made possible the hard-bop legacies of Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard. Before his fatal car crash in 1956, Brown was in another car accident that sidelined him for a year, injuring his shoulder but not dampening his music. Dizzy Gillespie visited him in the hospital to encourage his recovery. “He had it all,” Sonny Rollins said.

Today would’ve been Brown’s 90th birthday. The Clifford Brown Jazz Festival is expanding online from his birthplace of Delaware. His only known footage is a two-song appearance on a variety show hosted by Soupy Sales. Brown blazed the registers with ripping speed, textural bite, and arpeggiated flourishes, but he never felt the need to substitute virtuosity for voice. He could say more in three notes than many could in 30. His quintet with Max Roach ended with the highway crash that killed Brown, pianist Richie Powell, and Powell’s wife, Nancy, who lost control of the wheel while they slept between gigs. Hours earlier, Brown had played his final note at a Philadelphia jam session.

“There may be no sadder tale in modern music than that of Clifford Brown,” the Washington Post lamented, but alongside his loss runs a story of growth and recovery. By 1955 he’d become the most celebrated young player in jazz, equaling or topping Miles Davis. “When he was killed, there was an uncommon rush of sentiment in the jazz world,” Whitney Balliett wrote. “The tenor saxophonist and composer Benny Golson wrote a resonant dirge-ballad called ‘I Remember Clifford.’”

Today is the Friday before Election Day. It’s also Halloween eve. The world is madness. Take three songs and call me in the morning at recharge@motherjones.com: “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance With You,” “Joy Spring,” and “Daahoud,” lined up here.

THE END...

of our fiscal year is Thursday, June 30, and we have a much larger fundraising gap than we can easily manage with only days left to go.

Right now is no time to come up short: If you value the hard-hitting, democracy-protecting, justice-advancing journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us keep charging as hard as we possibly can with a much-needed and much-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

THE END...

of our fiscal year is Thursday, June 30, and we have a much larger fundraising gap than we can easily manage with only days left to go.

Right now is no time to come up short: If you value the hard-hitting, democracy-protecting, justice-advancing journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us keep charging as hard as we possibly can with a much-needed and much-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate