It was on the night of June 27, 1956. At that time I was playing in Dizzy Gillespie's band, and that night we were on the stage of the Apollo Theatre in New York. The first show ended and preparing to return to the stage. Suddenly, Walter Davis, Jr. ran onstage while crying, and said to everyone, "You heard? You heard? Brownie was killed yesterday (June 26, 1956)."
Of course, no musicians walking on stage could believe it. Some covered their faces with their hands and said, "Oh no!" Everyone couldn't move with shock. With tears all over, Walter said, "Clifford Brown was killed in a car accident yesterday! Pianist Richie Powell and his wife also killed!" Still I can't believe it. I felt like I almost fainted. That such a sweet guy should die in a car crash! That Richie Powell and his wife should die with him!
Then the stage director shouted, "It's time, everyone! Play!" No one could do anything, although we took our seats, but of course we couldn't play. Dizzy somehow encouraged us, and the curtain was raised. Many of the musicians were crying while playing, and the music tended to be cut off from time to time. I said to myself, "This is a nightmare! It's a nightmare!" And I tried to awaken from the nightmare. But the next morning I found Brownie's death in the paper.
For some time after that, all the musicians talked about was Clifford Brown.
Liner notes, Jams 2 (EmArcy 195 J 2), by Kiyoshi Koyama
Selected portions reprinted courtesy of the Clifford Brown Jazz Foundation
Content ©1997-2007, Greg Morey, all rights reserved, unless noted otherwise. Photo (upper-left) by Herman Leonard.