This is a transcription of an intimate moment with Benny Golson at The Tokyo Blue Note, while he spoke of some of his memories of jazz and Clifford Brown. Mr. Golson was ailing with a hand injury, just as he finished a tune written by Clifford, he started talking about his memories of Clifford.
Benny Golson speaking.....“That was Clifford Brown, as a composer. You know, I’m from Philadelphia, back in the states, and years and years ago we used to have our jam sessions on Saturday. And we were all teenagers, 16, 17 or 18, and we all knew each other because we were always at the jam sessions every Saturday. And when we played a tune, there were so many of us there, that tune lasted an hour. And then one Saturday, while we were playing, a stranger came in, and we didn’t know who he was. And he had a trumpet under his arm. Who was this guy? Well eventually he started to play, and when he played, he sounded better than us! Who was this guy? It turned out to be Clifford Brown. Of course, he had come from Wilmington, Delaware, to Philadelphia, 30 miles, to join our jam session. Oh boy. And incidentally, nobody called him Clifford in those days, everybody called him, Brownie. Brownie is in town, with his trumpet…oh yeah….And you know time goes by, and you lose track of people, whatever happened to Brownie?
Brownie turned up in New York City….. on a recording, it was an all-star recording, what was it called? It was called…“Friday Night at Birdland”, and who was on that recording, let me see. Horace Silver was on piano, and Lou Donaldson, alto saxophone, Curly Russell, bass. Hank Mobley, tenor, and Art Blakey on drums, whoaaa, that was fantastic. And there was a drummer in Brooklyn, and he had heard about Clifford Brown, and this was his chance to see him and hear him. He came to one of those recording sessions, and that drummer was Max Roach. Well time went by, and Max Roach and Clifford Brown, formed a quintet. And it became very popular in that area, but they weren’t recording yet, but later, Mercury Records heard them, and heard about them-signed them to a recording contract, and now they were making records..well, they were *records* then. And everybody around the world heard Max Roach and Clifford Brown.
And they had, they had an important date coming up in Chicago, and the name of that club? The same name as this club, it was the Blue Note in Chicago, heh, heh, heh. Yeah and it was an important date, but you know during those days, musicians didn’t fly in airplanes…they rode the bus, took the train, or rode in a car.
I rode in so many cars I knew every car on the street, yeah cars. Now they were going to go to Chicago, in the car, Max Roach had his car, and he took a couple of musicians with him. Now Richard, the piano player, Richard Powell, Bud Powell’s brother. He had just gotten married, and he wanted to stay as long as possible in Philadelphia with his new wife. Well Brownie had just bought a BRAND, NEW 1955 Buick! Ah, I remember it well, and the reason I remember it, he gave me a ride in it, ohhh, it was a great car. So….Brownie, the piano player and his new bride, they were going to go at the last minute to Chicago, to play the Blue Note. So it was about 3 o’clock in the morning, and they started out, but Brownie was sleepy, so he said to Richard, the piano player, ‘Richard, I’m a little sleepy, I think I’m going to take a nap on the back seat, can you drive or your wife?’ So Richard said, ‘I’m a little sleepy too, why don’t I let my wife drive?’ Well Ok. Not much traffic, 3 o’clock in the morning, the freeway, they gotta go fast.
Ok, so they went to sleep and the new bride was driving the car, *but the problem was! It was raining, ah, raining so much water, so…she was about to pass one of those big trucks….and the windshield wipers were going like this…but there was so much water from the back wheels, that she couldn’t see very clear….just as the road made a right turn..she didn’t see the turn. She went straight ahead, off the highway, and ran into the bottom of a bridge. Richard Powell, his wife, and Clifford Brown were killed. Killed they were on.
Now I happened to be playing in Harlem, with Dizzy Gillespie at The Apollo Theatre, and we heard that Clifford Brown had been killed in an automobile accident and we couldn’t believe it. Brownie? Dead? But yeah we found out that Clifford Brown was dead. Mmmm.
Our next engagement, in a couple of days was California. Hollywood! Los Angeles. And I thought since we have a couple of weeks there, maybe I could write a song about Clifford…and I did. And I called that song, “I Remember Clifford”. And we’re going to play it now. And every time I play this song, I wonder…what would have happened if Clifford Brown had NOT been killed…we can only imagine because of the things that he left behind on the recordings. Yes…we still remember Clifford Brown. And it was 63 years ago that he was killed. And we still remember him, yes."
Benny then says.."I Remember Clifford”……. and begins to play, Benny then, ailing from a bit of a hand injury, picks up his horn, and plays the first melody of the tune, a cappella whispering, crying through his sax, breathy, and full of emotion….and then the rhythm section, Mike LeDonne, Buster Williams, and Carl Allen join him at the top of the tune.
Tokyo Blue Note
June 29, 2019