Clifford Brown's premature death deprived jazz of one of its greatest trumpeters—a loss that seems even more poignant some
forty years later.
Born in 1930, in Wilmington, Delaware, Brown began playing in school bands and informal dance groups in his early teens.
Encouraged by his parents and teachers, he practiced constantly and soon became a local star. An important influence was Fats
Navarro, a brilliant bebop trumpeter whose life was cut short by heroin use. Taking warning from Navarro's fate, Brown became
a model for clean living among his generation of jazzmen, and was noted for his amiable disposition. His playing blossomed as
he gigged and jammed with top players in the jazz clubs of Philadelphia. After a series of record dates as sideman, and a
European tour with Lionel Hampton's band, he returned to the US in 1954 and formed a seminal quintet with drummer Max
Roach. In the two years before Brown and pianist Richie Powell died in a car crash on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, that group
made a strong impact on jazz listeners. Unfortunately, Catalano (Performing Arts/Pace Univ.), assuming his readers are intimately
familiar with Brown's music, relies primarily on verbal descriptions of his solos, providing only two passages of written music.
A few of his other judgments are even more questionable. He takes several gratuitous potshots at Miles Davis, overlooking the
possibility that even had Brown survived, he might never have rivaled the later success of the charismatic Davis. Nor did Brown's
death send jazz into a tailspin, as Catalano implies; the music remained strong for nearly a decade before rock drove it from
popular awareness. Still, the author’s enthusiastic and well-researched summary of Brown's career should send jazz buffs back
to their record collections for serious listening.
A worthy project diminished by Catalano’s impressionistic approach and special pleading.