Sunday, January 13, 2013

Listening for Brownie

When I started seriously listening to music, in the late 60's as I was entering my teens, the music I found most relevant was contemporary music. To me, that meant James Brown, Aretha Franklin, The Temptations and the Supremes, Sly & the Family Stone, the Isley Brothers, and other exponents of the new and fresh sounds emerging from Black, urban communities.

I started to buy and listen more to jazz at that time, and it soon became my favorite musical form. But I remained attuned to the contemporary, so for well over a decade my tastes leaned strongly toward fusion, progressive and free jazz forms, those styles that incorporated rock, R&B, African, South American and other ethnic forms. I couldn't bring myself to take in any jazz that I felt was "old-timey". Except for Coltrane, I was well into my twenties before I gave a serious ear to almost any jazz from before the mid-sixties.

But gradually, I became more open to the jazz of the early sixties, fifties, and even earlier. First, there was the earlier work of Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock, whose fusion work had already enthralled me. There was Hancock's "Speak Like a Child", and eventually I discovered Miles's "Kind of Blue". I heard a cut from "Sterling Silver", a compilation of early Horace Silver performances and became a fan of his. And gradually, over time, I became a fan of other pre-fusion greats.

My latest musical infatuation is with Clifford Brown, whom I discovered only very recently. It's not that I didn't know of the phenomenal trumpet player, known as Brownie, who was firmly established as a master stylist and leader by the time of his death in an auto accident at age 25. I even had a recording of one of his re-mastered live performances that I, well...liked. But it wasn't until I heard the first album that Brownie recorded as part of his collaboration with drummer Max Roach in 1955, titled simply "Clifford Brown & Max Roach" that I came under the spell of his magic.

It's such a beautiful, lush album, one that creates its own mood, as all great albums do. It's a quintet performance. The two leaders are accompanied by Harold Land on tenor, Richie Powell on piano, and George Morrow on bass. Brownie and Land have very complementary tones - full, throaty, organic, and their play is sensual and sweet and evocative. Roach contributes melodic solos and support that keeps the outing nicely bouncing along. From the first listen, I knew I had a new favorite album, and the tunes have been in my head, playing as a kind of soundtrack to my life, for a couple of months now. I love all the tunes, but my favorite is the tune that Brownie dedicated to his wife, whom he called his "Joy Spring".

Wonderful, how music can so suddenly capture you, as this did me - creep into your soul and inhabit you, flavor your world and your thoughts, enrich your sense of being. This album warms me with its quiet, joyous heat. It breathes a nostalgia for a time I didn't know. And it gives me a little bounce too.

The vinyl version of the album that I stumbled across in a used record store is titled "Jordu", but for some reason that tune alone is presented in a version only half as long as the original. Nevertheless, I'll be playing it as part of my Jazz Gumbo set tomorrow night. On previous shows I've already featured "Joy Spring" and "Delilah", and you'll be able to find them all at if you'd like to check them out.

In the meantime, I hope that you too are bouncing along with music that you love.

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