More from Clifford Brown


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Ever since I wrote the biography of Clifford Brown (Oxford University Press, 2000) I've been hoping that someone would come forth with some newly discovered recording, some new photos of Brownie, or some new piece of information about his life that wasn't available at the time the book was published. One of the great bonuses of new-age information technology is the amazing dissemination of material that seems to come forth in dribs and drabs. Any biographer hopes that new discoveries will appear to add to the knowledge of the subject.

So it was with great joy that last month I heard from a dear friend and masterful jazz writer, Doug Ramsey, about an interview that Brownie did which was unknown to me when I wrote the book. From his home in the Pacific Northwest, Ramsay produces a blog Rifftides, which has been widely read and often referenced by jazz enthusiasts. A while back one of his readers told him about a YouTube contributor identifying herself as "Nespasisi" who had posted a recording of Clifford Brown being interviewed by Willis Conover, the famed jazz broadcaster for Voice of America radio. Nespasisi explained that she had found the fragment "on one of my dusty old cassette tapes." The interview was alleged to have occurred shortly before Brownie was killed in the infamous traffic accident on June, 26, 1956.

The interview is quite wonderful. The tape is entirely free of distortion and sounds as if it were produced yesterday. Brownie's softly pitched voice and his well-known mannerly comportment come across immediately. Conover asks him about his trumpet influences and he pays dutiful tribute to Fats Navarro, Dizzy Gillespie, and Louis Armstrong. He notes that Miles Davis might be easy to imitate but that he "swings" and comments that he was very impressed with a recording of Roy Eldridge's "Let Me Off Uptown." He tells of long practice sessions focusing on "slurs" and "staccato" exercises without taking a day off. He notes that the absence of old time vibrato phrasing is necessary for the proper delivery of the jazz that he is playing and insists that a thorough knowledge of chord progressions is essential for successful improvisation.

Elements of the interview will no doubt be examined by scholars (the exact date needs to be verified) and other features of its origin and quality will be analyzed. But as the years go, by writers will be eager to include it in their speculations of what might have been if Brownie had lived longer.

If there are any readers out there who have access to any other previously undiscovered material on Clifford Brown I urge them to follow Doug Ramsey's lead and share with the world.

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