Clifford Brown: Joy Spring

26 Jun

Remembering Clifford Brown and Richie Powell and Nancy Powell on the day of their death in 1956.

Today is the day the music died 55 years ago in jazz, in a car crash on a rainy night on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Brown and Powell had played in a session in Philadelphia, and were on their way to Chicago for a date the next day.

Trumpeter Brown was just 25 when he died, Richie Powell — the pianist in his group, and brother of the great pianist Bud Powell — just 24. Brown’s loss to jazz musicians was every bit as devastating as Buddy Holly’s would be to the young genre of rock and roll three years hence. Said Brown’s drummer Max Roach, according to Ben Sidran’s book Talking Jazz: “I was really in never-never land for quite a while.” (Brown’s groups were an impressive array of talent; they included Roach, Powell and saxophonist Sonny Rollins, among others.)

There were several bitter ironies to the tragedy:

  • Brown had survived a horrific car crash six years earlier in June of 1950. He was already a rising talent in the jazz world, but he suffered severe injuries — including two broken legs — that required skin grafts and a full body cast.
  • It was while hospitalized for the 1950 crash that Brown learned of the death of fellow player trumpet player Fats Navarro, Brown’s closest confidante in the jazz world, at 26. According to Howard Gillis in a piece, Brown named only Navarro when asked to name his favorite trumpet players. According to Gillis, Brown’s widow Laura Brown Watson told jazz historian Leonard Feather: “(Clifford) idolized Fats Navarro. That was his heart.”
  • Navarro’s death was hastened by drug addiction and tuberculosis. Brown was widely reported to be free of the addictions that killed so many jazz players so young.
  • The accident happened on Brown’s second wedding anniversary, and his wife’s 22nd birthday.

Saturday a group of jazz players went to Brown’s grave site in his hometown of Wilmington, Del., and played in his honor. They finished with the song Benny Golson wrote in Brown’s honor, I Remember Clifford, which seems only appropriate on the 55th anniversary of his death.

A link to Brown’s composition Joy Spring, played by the Max Roach-Clifford Brown quartet, above:



One Response to “Clifford Brown: Joy Spring”


  1. Jazz Is: 31 – Freedom Day - August 19, 2011

    […] Clifford Brown: Joy Spring ( […]

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