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50 Years Later, Unmuted Awe for Clifford Brown

Clifford Brown died in a car crash on June 26, 1956.
Clifford Brown died in a car crash on June 26, 1956. (By Francis Wolff -- Mosaic Images)

It was Brown's second wedding anniversary -- and his wife's birthday. (LaRue Brown died last year at 72.)

In Chicago, when word arrived that Brown and Powell were dead, Roach locked himself in a hotel room with two bottles of cognac.

As for Rollins, "I just picked up my horn and played all night."

They tried to keep the band going, but it wasn't the same.

"When Clifford left, the front line was broken," says Rollins. "Other players came to replace Clifford, but they couldn't do it."

For years, when Rollins was struggling during a performance, he knew a sure way to get through his problems. "When I wasn't playing too well," he says, "I would channel Clifford. That would focus my thoughts and my playing."

A few months after Brown's death, Benny Golson, who had known him in Philadelphia, paid tribute by writing the darkly beautiful "I Remember Clifford," one of the most haunting ballads of jazz.

The life of Clifford Brown may have ended in sadness, but his music endures, full of joy.

For samples of Brown's music -- "Joy Spring," "Sandu" and "What's New" -- go to

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