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Clifford Brown: A Short Life Well-Lived

The legacy of the noted jazz trumpeter by Howard Gillis, Ph.D. and Alan Hood

Clifford Brown stands among the best jazz trumpeters in history. As a musician, his self-discipline and devotion to his art, his technical expertise, as well as his beautifully constructed solos all mark his exceptionality. As he lived his life, his fierce determination, his welcoming spirit, and the strength of his character all serve as examples for us all.

We are all tested at certain points in our lives. Clifford Brown’s test came in the summer of 1950 when he was 19 years old, and already a relatively accomplished musician. Clifford had finished playing a gig at a party, and while riding in a car with three friends, a deer suddenly appeared in the road. The car swerved, overturned and crashed. The accident killed the driver and his girlfriend. Clifford and the other passenger were critically injured. Clifford’s injuries were so extensive that his life was threatened. Bones were broken in his torso and both legs. He subsequently wore a full body cast for months. He had skin grafts that reached from his ankle to his armpits. Difficulties with his shoulder socket would make supporting his trumpet initially impossible and then very painful for months to come.

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