Clifford Brown - trumpet
Harold Land - tenor sax
Richie Powell - piano
George Morrow - bass
Max Roach - drums
One of George Wein's great assets as a talent booker was to showcase rising stars while still in their ascendancy. The young trumpet sensation Clifford Brown, Down Beat magazine's 'New Star of the Year' for 1954, was one such meteoric talent. When the 24-year-old trumpeter joined forces with the great bebop drummer and former Charlie Parker sideman Max Roach, expectations ran high in the jazz community that these two would shape the face of jazz to come in the same way that Parker and Dizzy Gillespie had done in the previous decade. Wein booked them for a Saturday evening, July 16, at the 1955 Newport Jazz Festival. Appearing under threat of rain, the hard-swinging hard bop quintet ignited a fire on the bandstand on the strength of Roach's driving rhythmic pulse, which seemed to lift the entire ensemble.
They opened their set with Brown's brisk hard bop anthem "Joy Spring." Heated exchanges between Brown and tenor saxophonist Harold Land escalate to a visceral level, leading to an exceptional drum solo by Roach. For the second tune, a ballad feature for Brown, Roach introduces the young exciting newcomer to the scene with the following: "Now it's our pleasure to present a young man who has astounded the jazz world with his amazing talent in the last two years. His name is Clifford Brown and here is his amazing version of 'I Don't Stand A Ghost of a Chance with You.'" The mournful minor key ballad, co-penned by crooner Bing Crosby, is an excellent vehicle to showcase Brown's warm, round tones and bold attack. (It was included on the quintet's acclaimed 1954 recording on Emarcy, Brown and Roach, Inc.). His uncanny fluidity and expressive quality in his phrasing reveal a sense of maturity and naked emotional depth that belie his 24 years. And his effortless high-note filigrees on the dramatic crescendo would even make Louis Armstrong sit up and take notice.
Richie Powell's "Jacqui," which appeared on the quintet's Study in Brown, recorded early that year, demonstrates the pianist's potential as a composer. A jaunty swinger with tight harmony lines between trumpet and tenor upfront, it features Brown pushing the envelope on his brilliant trumpet solo, followed by an urgent Bird-inspired solo by saxophonist Harold Land and a swinging, harmonically intriguing piano solo by Powell. Potent exchanges between the soloists and Roach culminate in another extraordinary solo by the maestro of the kit.
They close their dynamic set with an audacious, radically reconfigured arrangement of the Cole Porter classic "I Get A Kick Out Of You," which jumps seamlessly from a waltz-time intro to bop-fueled uptempo burn while cleanly executing intricate and difficult stop-time passages along the way. Brown unleashes with blistering intensity on this blazing romp, living up in the stratosphere throughout his energized solo. Land, an underrated tenor stylist, follows with some heat of his own which spurs pianist Powell to a heightened solo. Unfortunately, the piece fades before Max could enter the animated conversation with one of his typically melodic and remarkably agile drum solos.
Shortly after this performance at the 1955 Newport Jazz Festival, tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins replaced Harold Land in Max Roach-Clifford Brown Quintet. They earned accolades for their January 1956 recording, At Basin Street. In June 1956, Brown and Richie Powell were being driven from Philadelphia to Chicago by Powell's wife Nancy for the band's next appearance. While driving on a rainy night on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, west of Bedford, she lost control of the car and it went off the road. All three were killed in the resulting crash. Brown was buried in Mt. Zion Cemetery in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware. But his legacy lives on through the trumpeters he influenced, including Donald Byrd, Lee Morgan, Booker Little, Freddie Hubbard, Arturo Sandoval, Terence Blanchard and Wynton Marsalis, as well as the various trumpet festivals held each year in his honor. (Milkowski)