It was September, 1953. Lionel Hampton’s band was in the midst of an extended European tour. Response was enthusiastic, especially for the younger and virtually unknown players like Art Farmer, Gigi Gryce, Quincy Jones and Alan Dawson. It was Clifford Brown, though, that set off the fireworks.
Hampton, for reasons that are still unclear, imposed a ban against extracurricular recording by his musicians. Fortunately, the combination of intrepid European producers and players wanting to be heard led to several “underground” sessions. The tracks included here document the most significant of these, the Paris dates of 1953.
Brownie was only 22 years old. His star, however, had been ascending quickly. He had won the respect of Fats Navarro, his idol. He also had a solid endorsement from Dizzy Gillespie. In 1949, after Brownie had sat in with Diz in Wilmington, Delaware, Gillespie told Max Roach: “Man, there’s a cat down there in Wilmington who plays piano and blows the shit out of the trumpet.”
The Paris sessions were organized by pianist Henri Renaud, who successfully combined Hamp’s top players with his own colleagues. The dates fell into two formats, big band and small group.
The large ensemble was tabbed “Gigi Gryce and His Orchestra,” a sensible decision since the altoist had studied in Paris the previous summer as a Fullbright scholar . Moreover, Gryce had contributed several of the band’s charts.
Gryce’s “Brown Skins” is a two-part opus in the Ellington tradition. In the first section, Brownie’s heroic voice etches a stately theme stretched over lush winds and muted brass. After a stinging climax, Clifford leads the band into a bright medium groove and sails with boppish abandon.
Like all great improvisers, Brownie was never content to repeat himself. In take 2 of “Brown Skins,” he sharpens his bite and fashions a more aggressive essay than that of take 1. Similar contrasts are found in the other titles with a second take.
“Deltitnu,” also by Gryce, features the composer’s bubbling alto in counterpoint to the snappy ensemble rejoiners of the all-star trumpet section. For Quincy Jones’ “Keeping Up With Jonesy,” the accent is on the section’s muted trumpet trades.
The second side focuses on the “Gigi Gryce-Clifford Brown Sextet.” The opener, Gigi’s “Conception,” is a medium tempo bopper, a perfect vehicle for Brownie’s jaunty mellowness. For “All The Things You Are,” Clifford’s big sound and unfailing ear come to the fore.
Brownie’s harmonic daring in “I Cover The Waterfront” releases dazzling ethereal swirls. The trumpeter’s “Goofin’ With Me” returns the group to bedrock bebop. Based on the changes of “Back Home in Indiana,” the briskly set line features Brownie’s nimble mute work.
In both big band and combo settings, the Paris dates capture the passion and precision that made Brownie so unique. After his return to the States, these qualities were brought to intense focus in the historic group he co-led with Max Roach. That, however, came to a tragic end when he was claimed by an automobile accident on June 26, 1956.
Though Brownie’s star burned but briefly, the legacy he left us is rich. An important part of that legacy, the Paris Collection, is contained herein.
Paris, September 28, 1953