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Rich Pulin: Clifford Brown and "It's You, LaRue"

Nicholas F. Mondello BY

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Celebrated trombonist, trumpeter, composer/arranger, producer, educator and Las Vegas-based radio host, Rich Pulin shares background here about the great trumpeter, Clifford Brown and the love of Clifford's life, his wife, LaRue and his "co-authorship" of what might possibly be the last composition Brownie had written.

All About Jazz: Rich, On behalf of All About Jazz, thanks for speaking with us.

Rich Pulin: Thank you, Nick.

AAJ: This is a fascinating bit of jazz history. What the genesis of "It's You, LaRue?"

RP: Purportedly, the song "LaRue" not only was Clifford's last composition before his tragic untimely demise, but it was a love song that he wrote to and for his wife, LaRue Brown. He played it for her on the Santa Monica Beach the night he proposed to her.

AAJ: You mentioned that Clifford's widow, LaRue came to you to write the lyrics?

RP: That's right. LaRue and I had become close friends in Los Angeles in the mid-1970's. We even co-hosted a radio show to celebrate what would have been Brownie's 49th birthday. Clark Terry, Blue Mitchell and other greats called in to share memories. I still have the tape and may post it on the Early Childhood Music Education Foundation website. One day, LaRue, shocked me when she asked me to write a lyric to Clifford's composition, "LaRue."

AAJ: I know that you play both trombone and trumpet. Were you a Clifford fan? Why?

RP: From the time I can remember, I was a huge Clifford Brown fan. Why? He had the greatest harmonic concept of any trumpeter up to that point. His beautiful and unique tone was unmatchable and Clifford's technique was light-years ahead of anyone on the scene.

AAJ: What year did you write the lyric lines?

RP: LaRue asked me in 1977 and I did it right away—no delay.

AAJ: Is the version with your lyrics recorded? Who recorded it? Is it available?

RP: The Cunningham's recorded it on Discovery Records in the 1980s. It was nominated for a jazz vocal group Grammy in 1989. Yes, it is available.

AAJ: I know that other musicians/singers have put "vocalese" lyrics to "Joy Spring" and other Brownie tunes. How is "It's You, LaRue" unique?

RP: Great question. Clifford was better known for the more up-tempo material. A beautiful and luscious ballad like "LaRue" was a bit of a musical departure... so poignant. And the timing... whew!

AAJ: I know Kenny Dorham recorded Clifford's "LaRue." Are there any other instrumental versions out there? Clifford Brown III, Clifford's grandson—also a fine trumpeter-has a You Tube clip of him performing it.

RP: You can hear an Italian band playing it on You Tube too. And, I've always heard that Sonny Rollins recorded it, but I've never found or heard it.

AAJ: I wonder why Brownie didn't write lyrics to the tune? Any thoughts on that?

RP: Not everyone can write meaningful words. There's a big difference between creating musical notes and thoughts and words that are expressive. That's why among the Great American Songwriters, only a few did both.

AAJ: What was your creative process as you worked up the lyrics?

RP: A darkened room. I meditated and put myself in another realm. I felt Clifford present. I felt he actually helped me. When I handed the completed manuscript to La Rue Brown, she broke down in tears. I said, "LaRue, was it that bad?" to which she answered, "No, Rich. It is so beautiful. There are words and thoughts in the lyrics that heretofore only Cliff and I knew!"

AAJ: Was the process difficult?

RP: No, not at all!

AAJ: Why not?

RP: Spiritual guidance.

AAJ: What do you think Brownie would "say" about your lyrics?

RP: Well, since he helped me from "the great beyond," I'd like to think that he might say something like, "Rich, our song turned out great" or something like that.

AAJ: Have you done this with any other tunes? Brownie or any other?

RP Yes, although I write music and lyrics to my own songs, I provide music for folks that have meaningful lyrics, as well as the reverse—like "LaRue," or "It's You, LaRue" as it is now entitled—the version with lyrics. I do this all the time. I'm writing a lyric right now to an incredibly beautiful melody written by UK saxophonist, Mike Smith.

AAJ: The tune and your lyrics are so beautiful, so apropos. Is "It's You, LaRue" available for artists for use? Who owns the rights?

RP: All songs require a publisher's approval—RP Music, in the case of "It's You, La Rue." BMI has the rights and the estate of Clifford Brown, of course, has their interest, too.

AAJ: Rich, this has been a fascinating conversation. Thanks for bringing this bit of history to our readers.

RP: My pleasure, Nick. It is always been a pleasure, honor and distinction to have my name associated with Clifford Brown and his music. Thank You!

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