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Clifford Brown-Max Roach Project at the Piedmont Piano Company

Harry S. Pariser By

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Clifford Brown-Max Roach Project
Piedmont Piano Company
Oakland, CA
August 10, 2013

"[Clifford Brown's] technique was, for him, to use the facility and bring up the quality of a trumpet player in relation to having his trumpet expressed as a voice. He not only had the technique, he had the love. The sound he would get was something we used to talk about as if it were a flower." align=right>—Don Cherry



It was June 25, 1956, a rainy evening. The acclaimed Clifford Brown, a rising star in the jazz world, took off from Philadelphia, trumpet in tow. Nancy Powell, wife of pianist Richie Powell—younger brother of piano legend Bud Powell, and also in the car—was at the wheel of Brown's 1955 Buick. They were bound for Chicago, where the quintet was scheduled to perform the following night. Pulling off the Pennsylvania Turnpike sometime after midnight, they bought gas in Bedford, Pennsylvania, some 120 miles east of Pittsburgh. A short time later, the car missed a curve, then smashed through a guardrail and hurtled down a 75-foot embankment. Both Powells and Brown perished. Tragically, the date marked the 25-year-old Brown's second wedding anniversary and also his wife's birthday.

It was one of those moments when the history of jazz was changed forever. Together with drummer Max Roach, Brown had formed a quintet which, including tenor saxophonist Harold Land, bassist George Morrow and Richie Powell, had helped to create hard bop, an influential new style of jazz. The classic recording, Clifford Brown & Max Roachremains the best representative of his legacy and of this group's unfulfilled potential.

Over the next half century, Brown has been largely forgotten—that is, until producer Dan Fritz contacted Scotty Barnhart, lead soloist with the Count Basie Orchestra, asking him to put together a tribute band, an offer he accepted with alacrity.

To form the Clifford Brown-Max Roach Project, Barnhart handpicked Toronto native, tenor saxophonist Grant Stewart, who has been playing his horn since he was ten and claims influences such as Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Don Byas and Lester Young. When Barnhart thought about a drummer to sit in for the spirit of legendary drummer Max Roach, Clayton Cameron immediately came to mind. Cameron, who has played with the likes of Sammy Davis Jr. and Tony Bennett, has been dubbed the "Brush Master." Bay Area bassist, Jeff Chambers, who donned a blue vest and tie for the occasion, is a well-known fixture on the scene. Barnhart also invited his friend, Sabine—a jazz pianist he truly admires ("my jaw dropped")—to round out the quintet. Born and raised as Yelena Koshelevskaya in Moscow, Sabine is a classically trained pianist who has made the leap to jazz. As she has put it so eloquently, "jazz stimulates my mind, has captured my heart and expresses itself through my fingers. Jazz is my passion."

For this Bay Area debut, which was filmed and recorded by no less than three cameras, the quintet picked a unique spot. The Piedmont Piano Store, which hosts a wide variety of jazz concerts, is an awesome place to play. Chairs are set up amidst a plethora of pianos. Downstairs, more and more pianos of every make and kind can be found, from player to baby grand. Upstairs, the strongest brew on tap is drinking water, dispensed with a pitcher and glasses on a table, and patrons are warned not to put their glass on a piano, lest they find themselves asked for their credit card information.

In contrast, say, with the late trumpeter Miles Davis, who was noted for turning his back to the audience, Barnhart was a loquacious and affable host. Taking the stage in a red tie and shirt, the mustachioed man of the horn led the band through "I'll Remember April." "Jordu," a jazz standard written by Irving Duke Jordan in 1953 and popularized by the original quintet, followed, as Sabine played a classical prelude to the piece. After Stewart soloed, Barnhart bowed his legs and tapped his feet as he fingered the four valves with his right hand.

The band moved ahead with "Cherokee," a 1938 composition by made famous by Clifford Brown on Studies in Brown" (EmArcy Records, 1955). Cameron put his brushes in a tight march, working the high hat and pedals when Stewart soloed, and later galloping over the top of his snare drum. Barnhart maintained that "Brown set the standard for this tune on the trumpet " as Stewart left the stage and the band continued with George Gershwin's ballad, "Embraceable You." Alto saxophonist Chris Woods's "Blues Walk" then played out the first set.

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