Clifford Brown: Donna Lee
Clifford Brown (trumpet)
The Beginning and the End (Sony 725)
Clifford Brown (trumpet),
Sam Dockery (piano), Ace Tisone (bass), Ellis Tollin (drums).
Composed by Charlie Parker.
Recorded: live at Music City, Philadelphia, PA, June 25, 1956 (or May 31, 1955)
Rating: 97/100 (learn more)
When Clifford Brown revisited Ellis Tollin's Philadelphia instrument shop, Music City, for another Monday night jam session on June 25, 1956, it seemed that the sky was the limit for the brilliant 25-years-young trumpet star. In just four short years he had taken the jazz world by a storm. But after his final number that evening, "Donna Lee," he left by car to travel to Chicago for the Clifford Brown-Max Roach Quintet's next gig, only to die in an accident en route, along with Richie and Nancy Powell.
But was this "Donna Lee," and two other tracks, really from June 25, 1956, as Bruce Lundvall and Dan Morgenstern's liner notes for the original 1973 LP release proclaimed? Or was Nick Catalano's 2001 biography correct in asserting that this particular jam session actually took place a year earlier, on May 31, 1955? Catalano (and researcher/trumpeter Al Hood) pointed to participating saxophonist Billy Root, who was apparently on the road instead with Stan Kenton in late June of 1956, and who believed the recordings came from the May 1955 session. However, jazz historian Phil Schaap, for one, stands by the 1956 date, as did Ellis Tollin himself.. After all, Brownie is heard complaining at the conclusion of "Donna Lee" about how hot it is—and Philadelphia hit a cool 71? on 5-31-55, as opposed to a more sultry 86? on 6-25-56.
Whatever the case, listening to Brown's magnificent playing on "Donna Lee" is an exhilarating experience, but also a painful one, with the knowledge that the trumpeter, depending on which date is correct, had either mere hours or just a year left to live. What's most noticed in Brown's playing of the theme and especially in his solo is his great facility and rich, lustrous sound, and also his typical fondness for the middle register. He thinks on his feet, and comes across unrushed even at the surging up-tempo that the rhythm section handily maintains here. Brown's extended lines are uncliched, tireless, and thematically focused, as he inventively explores the harmonies of Parker's tune. Dockery contributes a fluent piano solo notable for its intriguing left hand accentuations. Tollin's energetic support behind both Brown and Dockery's solos show him to be a more than adequate drummer in the bop genre. Brown's second improv contains even more compelling phrasing, as he smoothly intersperses—amidst his runs—both crisply-hit high notes and lower octave tones played with a broad vibrato.
Reviewer: Scott Albin