Song of the Day: Clifford Brown – “Cherokee”

Trumpeter Clifford Brown, a brilliant improviser and a model for clean-living in jazz, was born on this day (October 3) in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1930. Brown was a pioneering trumpeter when it came to bebop and hard-bop, an artist whose effervescent personality, warm tone and wonderfully coherent improvisations influenced jazz musicians the world over. But his impact on the music extended far beyond his technique. He never used drugs, rarely drank and hardly ever used foul language, serving as a shining counterpoint to the stereotype of jazz musicians as burnouts and flunkies. He is said to have personally helped saxophonist Sonny Rollins overcome a heroin addiction, and in doing so became an important role model to musicians who sought to pursue their art while maintaining a full, wholesome grasp on life.

Unfortunately, Brown’s own life was cut tragically short when, in June 1956, a car he was riding in with pianist Richie Powell and Powell’s wife, Nancy, veered off the Pennsylvania Turnpike and crashed, killing all passengers. He was just 25 years old at the time, leaving behind a wife and young son. In 1994, Brown’s widow, LaRue Brown Watson, established the Clifford Brown Jazz Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to inspiring jazz in young people. “Cherokee,” today’s Song of the Day, shows Brown in full bloom, playing the kind of warm, flickering trumpet solos that made him a legend. On drums is the equally talented Max Roach.

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