Clifford Brown-Art Blakey: Blues




Art Blakey Quintet


Clifford Brown: The Complete Blue Note and Pacific Jazz Recordings (Blue Note CDP 7423 8 34198 2 1)

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Clifford Brown (trumpet), Art Blakey (drums), Lou Donaldson (alto sax), Horace Silver (piano), Curly Russell (bass).

Composed by traditional (uncredited)


Recorded: New York City, Birdland Club, February 21, 1954


Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

Upon his release from the Hampton Band in December 1953, Brownie found employment wherever he could—most notably with Charlie Parker and Art Blakey. The brilliant recordings he made in New York City in the Fall and the ones captured while in Europe were being released steadily to positive critical acclaim, and it was inevitable that before long, Brown would be snatched up as a star sideman or become a leader in his own right on the professional jazz circuit. This historic live date with Art Blakey in February 1954, came just before his emergence.

Alfred Lion asked Blakey to do a live date at Birdland for the Blue Note label and Art responded by hiring an all-star cast. With the advent of the LP, it was now becoming feasible to present live dates and extended songs and we are certainly richer for it. There were some rehearsals for the date and incidentally, when Miles Davis attended one, Clifford played so well that Davis told him that he hoped he would “break his chops!” The night was recorded (superbly by Rudy Van Gelder, I might add) in five shorter sets, so some of the tunes are repeated for alternate takes. “Blues” falls somewhere in the middle and it seems like the band just wanted to ‘get down and dirty’ in the midst of a series of pretty demanding tunes. Hence, we have a relaxed-groove, blues-drenched outing, much to the audience’s delight (you can hear a fan shout “harder, harder") and also to Blakey’s, who shouts to Lou Donaldson, “blow your horn!”

Horace Silver sets the pace with an eight-bar intro, emphasizing the triplet feel and sets up what might initially be mistaken for as “stripper” music, complete with audience jeers! Donaldson’s four choruses are very Parker-esque, as one might expect, in the “Parker’s Mood” vein—he is a true master of this idiom. Brownie’s four choruses are dripping with raw blues emotion—there is very little in his output that contains such base emotions. His emphatic and clarion statements alternate with phrases that sound almost like crying, exciting the crowd and building tension. By the third chorus, his lines carry the impact of a knife cutting repeated deep slashes as he sets up a kind of call-and-response with himself between the lower and upper registers of the horn. After some effective stop-time on chorus four, Brown ends with a fantastically executed double time passage. Silver’s four choruses (and his comping) are classic Horace ‘Messengers'; churchy, punchy, full of triplets and heavy shuffle rhythms. Russell provides a wonderfully solid feel, and it is apparent that Blakey is loving every second of this.

We are left with a slice of history that was undoubtedly both fun and cathartic for the players and audience. The beauty of it is that we can actually feel and enjoy it the same way those lucky participants did 55 years ago. And to think that LaRue once told me that she didn’t think Cliff (as she called him) could play the blues!

Reviewer: Al Hood

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