Clifford Brown: A Night In Tunisia


A Night in Tunisia


Clifford Brown (trumpet)


The Beginning and the End (CBS/Sony 32 DP 663/Japan)

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Clifford Brown (trumpet),

Billy Root (tenor saxophone); Sam Dockery (piano); Ace Tesone (bass); Ellis Tollin (drums)


Composed by Dizzy Gillespie and Frank Paparelli


Recorded: Philadelphia, PA, May 31, 1955 - privately recorded jam session at the Music City Drum Shop


Rating: 85/100 (learn more)

This has been Brownie’s most controversial date since its release by Columbia in 1973. For close to 30 years this has been propagated as Clifford’s last session, reportedly done just hours before his death in the horrific turnpike accident. Billy Root himself, in a Cadence interview, said that the date occurred maybe a year prior to his death—because he was out on the road with Stan Kenton when the crash happened. (He was accurate—tour dates show him in Wisconsin at the time of Brown’s accident.) University of the Arts professor Don Glanden and myself tracked down Ellis Tollin, who owned the drum shop in Philadelphia where this jam session took place, and also hosted and played drums on the weekly sessions. They were called “Swing Club” jam sessions and they took place every Tuesday night at 7 p.m. from roughly 1954-1956, mainly for the benefit of the city’s underage musicians and fans to hear and play with the jazz stars who were appearing at Philadelphia’s Blue Note Club. Tollin produced flyers from the session, dated for May 31, 1955, complete with photos and a description listing the tunes and proceedings. The fact that Tollin himself thought these were still the recordings of Brownie’s last night leads me to believe that Brown did indeed play at Music City on his way out of town to Chicago, but this was not the recording of it (he played there many times). Others reported hearing Clifford there that evening as well. The Columbia date is completely erroneous—they list Monday, June 25th as the 1956 session date. The sessions always took place on Tuesday evenings. Also, Clifford’s fatal crash was not on June 26th, as commonly reported, but in the very early morning hours (1 a.m.) of Wednesday, June 27th, according to the Pennsylvania State Police report. That is neither here nor there when it comes down to the music, but I believe that it is proper to set the historical record straight.

It is very appropriate that “A Night In Tunisia” was chosen for the jam. Gillespie was an early champion of Brown after Clifford sat in with Diz’s big band in 1949, in Wilmington, Delaware, and flabbergasted him. He also personally encouraged Brownie to pursue music while he was recovering from his 1950 car accident. After the traditional intro, Brown takes the melody in his inimitable style and plays a four-bar break into his solo which excites the crowd. The rhythm section re-enters a beat late, but this doesn’t faze Brown. His ensuing five choruses (over three and a half consecutive minutes!) are full of blistering high notes, cascading triplets, diminished sequences and patterns, and emphatic repeated figures. He builds climax after climax. It is a solo that makes one pause and thank the stars that it was saved on tape! Root follows with four choruses of feel-good swing, sounding bold, confident and as melodic as Clifford. Sam Dockery, a friend of Clifford’s and future Blakey Jazz Messenger, is up next on piano—unfortunately, his outing is reduced down to just one chorus on most releases. Brown returns for two more ‘fire breathing’ choruses, Tollin providing wonderful support and interplay, and plays through the head into a short cadenza. By this time, Brown’s constant forays into the upper register have taken a toll and it is a struggle for him to get some of his high notes to speak. He must have created a little melodramatic scene during the cadenza because the audience chuckles for a moment. He finally reaches his intended note amidst audience cheering.

Reviewer: Al Hood

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