Clifford Brown and Max Roach
Drummer Max Roach was no stranger to musical revolution. In the 1940s, he was one of the founding fathers of bebop, along with such luminaries as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and others. Roach in fact played on many of Parker’s most important recordings. When he came together with the younger, virtuoso trumpeter Clifford Brown in 1954, the jazz world held its breath, excited by the possibility of what new directions in jazz might emerge from this remarkable partnership. Nor would fans be disappointed.
Born in 1924 in New Land, North Carolina, Max Roach was raised in Brooklyn, New York, getting his musical education at the Manhattan School of Music. A precocious student, Max, at the age of just 16, was asked to fill in for Sonny Greer with the Duke Ellington Orchestra at a performance in New York City. Soon he was a regular on the New York jazz scene, helping to create the new music called bebop.
The year 1954 found Max working on the west coast, when producer Gene Norman approached him with the suggestion that he form a band and take it on tour. Max had become aware of the young trumpet sensation Clifford Brown, having heard him play with JJ Johnson and with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. He reached out to Brown with an invitation not just to join the new quintet but to become his full partner in its leadership.
Clifford Brown, six years Max’s junior, was born in 1930 in Wilmington, Delaware, where he was raised and where he acquired the nickname “Brownie.” He was educated at Delaware State University and at University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Brown was known as a clean living musician, one who avoided the drugs and alcohol that so pervaded the jazz scene in those days. He was also known for his full, rich, warm sound on trumpet, for his virtuosic technique and graceful style — attributes that clearly appealed to Max Roach.
When the Gene Norman tour was over and the new partnership established, Brown and Roach re-formed the quintet, bringing in tenor saxophonist Harold Land, pianist Richie Powell (brother of the legendary pianist Bud Powell) and bassist George Morrow. This was the quintet that went into Capitol Studios in Los Angeles on August 2, 1954, to begin the three-session process of recording the eponymous album Clifford Brown and Max Roach.
What came out of those sessions was, if not a revolution, certainly an evolution. Clifford Brown and Max Roach was a landmark recording that helped to launch the next development in jazz, the style that became known as “hard bop” and fairly defined jazz for the next decade or more.
The original album included just five tunes. Two of them were Brown originals: “Joy Spring” and “Daahoud,” which went into the standard jazz repertoire where they’ve remained ever since. Bud Powell’s “Parisian Thoroughfare” is also on the album, as is Duke Jordan’s “Jordu.” The most surprising inclusion, though, is Victor Young’s “Delilah,” which was written for the score of the Cecil B. DeMille movie Samson and Delilah.
On February 24-25, two more tracks were recorded: One was “The Blues Walk,” which is credited to Clifford Brown but whose authorship has always remained in dispute as Sonny Stitt claimed he wrote it as “Loose Walk” and Chris Woods pointedly named it “Somebody Done Stole My Blues.” The other new track was Duke Ellington’s “What Am I Here For?”
Critic Ben Ratliff, writing in The New York Times, calls “Joy Spring,” “Daahoud,” “Jordu” and “Parisian Thoroughfare” “four of Brown’s great performances.” And the legendary drummer Paul Motian singled out “Delilah” for special praise, declaring it “simple but great.”
It was a wonderful quintet that recorded this album, all of whose members shine, though none brighter than Clifford Brown and Max Roach themselves, whose musicality, technical proficiency and passion light up the whole album. And the tenor saxophonist Harold Land — a relative unknown until he joined Brown and Roach — plays no second fiddle to Clifford Brown on the front line, stepping up to the challenge with a warmth that matches Brown’s own and a fluidity that reminds one of Bird.
Clifford Brown and Max Roach was the first of five albums recorded by the quintet over a short period of a couple years, all of which were greeted with critical acclaim and remain to this day high on the list of the most collectible modern jazz albums.
Drummer Max Roach went on to a long and varied musical career, creating innovative jazz for decades, and always moving ahead with the times. In the ’60s, he was in the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement. When avant garde jazz came along, Max was right there, recording with the likes of Anthony Braxton, Archie Shepp and Cecil Taylor.
In the long history of jazz, Max Roach is considered one of its most important drummers. He died at the age of 83 on August 16, 2007.
The life and career of Brown, unlike those of his partner Max Roach, were tragically brief. On June 27, 1956, less than two years after the original recording of Clifford Brown and Max Roach, 26-year-old Clifford Brown died on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in a car accident on the way to a gig in Chicago. With him were his bandmate and pianist Richie Powell and Powell’s wife Nancy. It was Clifford and LaRue Brown’s second anniversary and LaRue’s 22nd birthday.
Brown left behind only four years’ worth of recordings. His legacy, however, goes far beyond that, as his influence has informed the playing of later jazz trumpeters such as Booker Little, Freddie Hubbard, and Lee Morgan and, by extension, scores of jazz trumpeters to follow.
Sources: Wikipedia, WMUK’s Jazz Currents with Keith Hall, AllMusic.com
"Delilah" (Victor Young) – 8:07
"Parisian Thoroughfare" (Bud Powell) – 7:19
"The Blues Walk" (Clifford Brown) – 6:53
"Daahoud" (Clifford Brown) – 4:02
"Joy Spring" (Clifford Brown) – 6:52
"Jordu" (Duke Jordan) – 7:45
"What Am I Here For?" (Duke Ellington) – 3:10
Recorded August 2–3 & 6, 1954 (original 10-inch LP)
February 24–25, 1955 (expanded version, 12-inch LP)
Capitol Studios, Los Angeles
Producer: Bob Shad