Clifford Brown: Easy Living


Easy Living


Clifford Brown (trumpet)


Clifford Brown: Memorial Album (Blue Note: 32141)

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Clifford Brown (trumpet), Gigi Gryce (flute), Charlie Rouse (clarinet), John Lewis (piano), Percy Heath (bass), Art Blakey (drums).

Recorded: New York, City, NY, August 28, 1953


Rating: 99/100 (learn more)

This was Brownie’s first date as a leader for Blue Note Records and came about after Brown’s outstanding playing on the Jay Jay Johnson Blue Note record date just a month prior. For sidemen, he chose new musical friend Gigi Gryce (with whom, by this time, he was working with in Lionel Hampton’s Band), Art Blakey (who was recommended to hire Brown earlier by none other than Charlie Parker), and Blue Note regulars Heath, Lewis and Rouse. In addition to this beautiful ballad, the session includes material by Brown himself, Gigi Gryce, Hampton trumpet mate Quincy Jones and the bebopper’s test piece “Cherokee,” which Brown had an affinity for playing. This date took place only days prior to Brown’s departure for a European tour with the great Lionel Hampton Orchestra, which was chock full of young modern jazz talent of the day. A wonderful Francis Wolff photograph from this session shows Brown and Gryce donning stickers on their chest in testament to both having been properly immunized for their impending trip overseas!

Ralph Rainger’s Easy Living, a tune often associated with songstress Billie Holiday, is relaxed and loping, and Clifford expresses the mood brilliantly. The introduction, over a bowed bass, has Gryce on a flute lead, and though it sounds much like another flute, I believe Rouse is playing the saxophone delicately and transparently underneath. Brownie enters with the melody line and presents it gracefully in a vocal style, twisting and bending notes to add color and nuance. His two A-sections of the 32-bar tune are full of rapid embellishments and additions to the melody, and he shows off his double-timing ability, which is complemented admirably by Blakey, an excellent choice for the date. During the bridge, Blakey sets up an attractive rhythmic pattern that gets picked up in a variant by Lewis. Their “chatter” surrounding Clifford’s melody is quite appealing. Brown finishes the melody with a remarkable modulation back to the B-section that falls into a double-time feel for Brownie’s melodic improvisation. Clifford takes the melody out and the introduction material recurs, providing a coda that harmonically concludes with a sound that is, to this day, quite funny to my ears!

The product as a whole is a thoughtfully arranged, highly sensitive reading of the song which leaves one with a melancholy yet wholly satisfied feeling, much like releasing a heavy sigh. As a matter of fact, in Leonard Feather’s Encyclopedia of Jazz, which was released in 1955 (with interviews conducted by mail in 1954), Clifford listed “Easy Living” as his best solo to date on record.

Reviewer: Al Hood

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