Great Encounters #33: The night Clifford Brown and Fats Navarro shared the bandstand

February 25th, 2014

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Fats Navarro and Clifford Brown at Mercantile Hall; Philadelphia, 1949

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Saxophonist Benny Golson describes what was, according to Clifford Brown biographer Nick Catalano, “probably the first meeting between Brown and Fats Navarro.”

Excerpted from Clifford Brown: The Life and Art of the Legendary Jazz Trumpeter, by Nick Catalano

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  Although Dizzy Gillespie was by far the most widely admired trumpeter of the new bebop, it is significant that Clifford Brown chose, perhaps as early as age fifteen, to follow the path of [Fats] Navarro. During his Philadelphia excursions it is evident that he saw Navarro frequently perform. He sought to develop the “fat sound” that has long since become identified as the essential Clifford Brown style. Following the lead of Navarro, Brown eschewed the high register solos that made bebop such a crowd-pleaser. He preferred the middle of the horn, and it is there that he developed his long improvisational lines.

  Clifford Brown was well aware of Gillespie’s innovations, but he refused to become a Gillespie clone. Even at this early age he recognized that he could achieve more if he utilized ideas that Navarro had developed. In time, his tone would become sweeter than Navarro’s, his improvisations more complex, and, above all, his articulation and clarity more pronounced.

  Benny Golson describes what was probably the first meeting between Clifford Brown and Fats Navarro. One of the Philadelphia clubs “had local talent there, Clifford Brown, an alto player and a rhythm section – and Fats was a little late getting in. Clifford was playing as he entered, and Fats sort of realized halfway between the door and the stage what was going on – you could see him slow his pace just a little and sort of look up to see where all this playing was coming from. He proceeded to take his trumpet out; he got up there, and they called another tune off and began to play. Being the star, as it were, at the time, Fats played the first solo, and then Clifford began to play. Fats held his horn in his arms the way trumpet players do, and sort of stepped back – not in awe, but sort of like in respect. And I’ll tell you, Clifford was really holding his own. In fact, as kind and meek as he was, when he picked his horn up and the tempo really went up, he became almost like a vicious person, you know – darting and dodging and badgering and manhandling – yet it was all very beautiful, very controlled and colored with emotion.

  It is probable that this first meeting occurred on one of the Philadelphia trips taken when Brownie was still in high school. Golson recollected that “Fats tucked his trumpet under his arm, stood beside Brownie and applauded.” This coincides with the 1946 date that is Golson’s first recollection of seeing him. Navarro was sincerely appreciative of Brown’s talent and, it appears, advised him on many occasions, most of them in Philadelphia.

  Years later, in 1954, when Clifford Brown became a jazz star and Down Beat critics’ poll winner, he was asked by Leonard Feather to fill out a questionnaire. Feather was preparing entries for his forthcoming Encyclopedia of Jazz. His form included the question “Who are your favorite musicians on your instrument?” Brownie wrote down only one name: “the late Fats Navarro.”

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Excerpted from Clifford Brown: The Life and Art of the Legendary Jazz Trumpeter, by Nick Catalano

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Catalano talks about Clifford Brown in a Jerry Jazz Musician  interview hosted by Paul Morris

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Clifford Brown plays “Embraceable You”

Fats Navarro plays “Stealin’ Apples”

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