Finally a book on "Brownie"!
Larue Brown Watson, Clifford's wife, wrote a book called Brownie's Eyes but it has never been in print in English. Those of us wanting to know about this incredible player have only had sparse information on him from Jazz Encyclopedias, liner notes from albums etc. But now, thanks to Nick Catalano we can finally understand how Clifford developed his great improvisational skills and his beautiful trumpet playing.
In a recent interview, Catalano was asked: Why write a book on Clifford Brown?
Easy answer. I played with Clifford about forty years ago. I was on the same bandstand with him a couple of times. He is the greatest musician that I personally have come into contact with in all my years as a jazz writer, producer, musician, and a professor. And the idea that no biography had ever been done about him was amazing to me. So Oxford University Press approached me and said, "Would you do this?" They read my stuff here in New York and I said, "I'd love to do a biography of Clifford Brown."
The book is divided into 12 chapters followed by an epilogue, notes, a selected and annotated discography and an index. It is based on extensive interviews with Clifford Brown's family, friends, and fellow jazz musicians. Catalano started the project in 1995 and worked on it for almost 5 years. Luckily after more than 40 years since Cliffords death, musicians, teachers and some of his brothers and sisters were still alive.
Several of "Brownie's" recordings have been reissued on CD's. The combination of reading about him and listening to him is in my opinion great. Like listening to Clifford playing "Stardust" with strings and reading how he made an impression playing that tune at age 15 (see page 19) - it is his mentor and teacher Boysie Lowery that recalls this.
The environment played a quintessential
role in shaping the artist Clifford Brown. His fathers role as a
music lover, the secure life in his hometown WiIlmington and his mentor
Robert "Boysie" Lowery - with his system "the classes" was crucial. Clifford
Brown was a junior high school student at Howard High when he started as
student of Lowery. "I didn't start him in a book" said Lowery,
"I taught him how to hear."
Lowery also encouraged students to record their practice session. In the 1940's wire spool recorders existed and Clifford Brown became one of the first jazz players to use these devices.
If Lowery gave Clifford his improvisational skills, he got the trumpet competence from Harry Andrews who was a band director at Howard High. "I started him [Brown] on the Prescott system, which is based on the Arban's method" said Andrews. "I also introduced him to the non-pressure system. He had been using a lot of pressure on putting his lips to the mouthpiece."
I think those of us playing trumpet would have liked to hear more about Cliffords trumpet background. Catalano is a reed player but if he and the publisher had consulted a trumpeter they could maybe have made more out of this topic. Small errors like calling Arban for S.J. Arban (instead of J.B. Arban) and saying that Maynard Ferguson was the king of "The High C" (a trumpeter will call it "Double High C") would not have slipped by.
But all in all a great work from Nick Catalano.