Clifford Brown: You Get Used to It

Clifford Brown: You Get Used to It


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



i couldn’t find the words to tell max how it was. we all live. we all die. the force that people

on earth call god, gives us all breath but also, sooner or later, takes that breath away. in time,

god gets round to killing each of us. whatever we do in between, we do or don’t do.



Books by Kalamu ya Salaam


The Magic of JuJu: An Appreciation of the Black Arts Movement  /   360: A Revolution of Black Poets

Everywhere Is Someplace Else: A Literary Anthology  /  From A Bend in the River: 100 New Orleans Poets

Our Music Is No Accident   /  What Is Life: Reclaiming the Black Blues Self

My Story My Song (CD)


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Clifford Brown: You Get Used to It

Short Story by Kalamu ya Salaam 


they used to call me brownie—clifford brown. i don’t have a name now, at least none that you all can translate. i guess you can call me the spirit of brownie, except that’s so limiting and in the spirit world there are no limits. can you understand being everywhere all the time at the same time? never mind. this is about to get too out for you to dig.

when the accident happened, i had nodded off. i mean the ’56 pennsylvania crackup, not the one in ’50 that had me hung up in the hospital for a year. dizzy came and visited me, encouraged me to resume my career when i was released. not that one. instead i mean the big one where i woke up dead.

max and newk, they were in the other car, which had gone on ahead. so when they heard we had died, well, maxwell really took it hard. i guess because he knew richie’s wife shouldn’t have been driving because richie had only recently taught her how to drive—recently like a matter of weeks.

but when max, who was six years my senior and had seven on richie, tried to intervene, richie sounded on him. you know how we young cats asserting our manhood can run guilt trips, “max. max. why you always treating me like bud’s baby brother? i play as much box as earl does, more, ‘cause bud is so inconsistent, and me, i’m always there.”

which was true. he was on time, all the time. “plus i arrange and compose.” and he would touch his thick glasses in a disarming gesture that belied the stern words he was declaiming. “i’m a grown man, max. a grown, married man. i got a wife, a woman, a life, a man. why are you second guessing me on who can drive and who can’t drive? why you treat me like a boy?”

it was such a drag, such a drag seeing youngsters straining to act so old. but you know, like richie was carrying a gorilla on his back. what with richie tickling the ivories and being the younger brother of earl bud powell, the reigning rachmaninoff of jazz piano. i bet you if my older brother played trumpet and was named dizzy, i would play bass or drums. but then again, being who i was, what choice did i have but to play what i played or else not play at all? no one chooses to be born who they are.

but anyway, max, max starts drinking to get drunk. and drinking and drinking. not even tasting the liquor, just pouring it in trying to kill the pain. richie’s gone. his wife was gone. i was gone. max is whipping himself like a cymbal on an uptempo “cherokee”—ta-tah, ta-tah, ta-tah-tah, tat tah! and newk, newk just disappeared, was up in his room, standing in the middle of the floor, going deep inside himself trying not to feel nothing.

max was in his room drinking and crying, crying and drinking. and newk, in a room above max, was silent as a mountain. i had to do something, so i played duets with newk all that night. all night. we played and we played. and we played. all night. i was willing to play as long as newk was willing and newk stayed willing all night. it was like he was a spirit too, but that comes from being a musician. when you’re really into the music you get used to going into the spirit world all the time and bringing the peoples with you. that’s the real joy of playing, leaving this plane and entering the spirit world.

as much as me and newk played that night, that’s how much max drank and cried. finally, i couldn’t take it no more and i had to appear to max. i stepped in the seam between worlds. i was like translucent. that was as close as i could come to having a body but i was solid enough for max to peep me, and i spoke… well not really spoke, kind of sounded inside max’s head while i was shimmering in the shadows of that gloomy hotel room.

“max, it wasn’t your fault, man. you can’t live other people’s lives. you’ve got to sound your own life.”

i couldn’t find the words to tell max how it was. we all live. we all die. the force that people on earth call god, gives us all breath but also, sooner or later, takes that breath away. in time, god gets round to killing each of us. whatever we do in between, we do or don’t do.

and max starts bawling even louder, talking about how i was too good for this world, how my example helped all of them clean up their particular indisciples. he was moaning, you know, crying and talking all out his head all at the same time. crying pain like a man cries when he’s really broke down.

if i had still been alive i would have hugged him but i was dead and that’s why he was crying. so finally, all i could do was tell him the truth. “hey, max, it’s alright, max. it’s alright. get yourself together and keep playing. i’m cool where i’m at. it’s alright!

the next morning, when they left, max and newk got in the car and didn’t say a word. for the rest of their lives they never talked to each other about that scene. we all have different ways of dealing with death, even those of us who are dead.

and there it is. life is always about decisions and consequences made within a given set of circumstances. you can’t change the past. you can’t foresee the future. all you have is the clay of today to shape your existence. no matter what particular condition you are in, you can only do what you can do. you can only go with the flow of where you are at, and work hard to blow the prettiest song you can conceive. that’s all any of us can do in however many choruses we get the chance to take while we’re alive.

besides, believe me, death ain’t no big thing. you get used to it, after a while.

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01_I_Remember_Clifford.mp3 (10248 KB)

(Kalamu reading “Clifford Brown: You Get Used to It”)

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Clifford Brown on Breath of Life

By Kalamu ya Salaam 


In 1950 he was in a car accident that left him hospitalized for approximately a year. Somehow, he not only recovered but also found the fortitude to re-ignite a musical career that had barely gotten started, an undertaking that meant he would spend many hours on the road, literally driving from city to city.Clifford Brown was born October 30, 1930 in Wilmington, Delaware. On June 26, 1956 Brownie died in a car crash on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Accompanying Brown in the car was pianist Richie Powell. Powell’s wife, Nancy, was driving. She also died in the accident. Within a span of not quite five full years Clifford Brown went from a patient in intensive care to ascendancy as the future of jazz trumpet—that’s how most people following the jazz scene assessed Brownie. He was supposed to be next. He had already stood most critics on their collective ear. Among the musicians, the sober, quiet, well-mannered Clifford Brown was regarded as a saint—not a square. A saint. He truly had the spirit of the music. Could play with fire or, on the other hand, be cool like spring mountain water—whatever was appropriate for the occasion. Five years. He had an unrivaled technical command of the trumpet, a seemingly boundless imagination, and a beautiful personality. So imagine, it had been just a little over a year since Bird’s passed on March 12, 1955 and now Brownie too was gone. It was too much. Nineteen fifty-nine (the year of jazz’s creative rebirth) could not get here soon enough.  In 1954 Brownie and drummer Max Roach assembled the major jazz quintet of the early fifties. While not as popular as the Modern Jazz Quartet or even The Miles Davis Quintet of the Prestige years, the Brown/Roach combination was considered the most progressive quintet of its era, which was short-lived but nonetheless influential. They were both a blow the walls down, hot-blooded crew and a super punctilious ensemble playing fiendishly difficult arrangements at near impossible speeds.  The band members were Sonny Rollins on tenor (Sonny replaced Harold Land who had held the tenor spot previously), Clifford on trumpet, Richie Powell on piano, Max Roach on drums and William Morrow on bass. . . .

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Music was his first love, I was his second love and math was his third . . . he used to play all kinds of mathematical games. He was a wizard with figures and numbers. He played chess well and he played pool like he was going insane. But his family had always been very competitive with pool at home, so he played pool all of the time. And he liked doughnuts. He used to tell me that as a child there was never enough money to have more than one doughnut per person, because he came from a large family and when we would go anywhere near a doughnut shop, he would buy dozens. And they would get stale before he could eat them all. But he would insist on having these doughnuts. . . . there was only one time when I didn’t travel with him. I had asked his permission to bring the baby home, because our child had been born by then, and I had not been home; our friends and relatives had not seen our kid. Clifford told me okay because [they] were going to go to West Virginia and then Chicago. So he put us on a plane and, of course, that’s when he got killed. In fact, I was here with Harold Land and his wife Lydia on my birthday again, June 26; they were giving me a birthday party I had had a strange feeling, so I went over to my Mom’s house, to check on the baby and while I was there the telephone rang: they thought it was my mother, and they told her that Cliff, the baby and I had all been killed in an accident. Of course, it wasn’t that way at all, it was Richard Powell and his wife who were in the car. But everybody assumed it was us because we were always together. We even planned the baby’s birth around when he wouldn’t be at work, you know? We always traveled with the baby even though he was so young, because Clifford insisted that we be a family all the time. —Larue Brown Watson (Clifford’s wife, Larue and Clifford were married on Larue birthday, June 26, 1954, exactly two years before he was killed.)

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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 we came off the stage. After the intermission, everyone was preparing to return to the stage. Suddenly, Walter Davis, Jr. ran on stage 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 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.—Benny Golson

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Clifford was a profound influence on my personal life. He showed me that it was possible to live a good, clean life and still be a good jazz musician.—Sonny Rollins (the last saxophonist with the Brown-Roach Quintet)

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Clifford “Brownie” Brown, a profound definition of Brown is beautiful.

Source: BOL

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“death aint no big thing.”

These are the final words of Kalamu ya Salaam’s short story “Clifford Brown: You Get Used to It.”  They are uttered by his narrator, a fictional Clifford Brown.One might say that it is the flip side of his story “Alabama.” Clifford Brown (1930-1956), the influential  jazz trumpet player, is the narrator of this story which one might say is a philosophical view of death and the afterworld. It is a soothing philosophy—”we all live, we all die . . . god . . . gets round to killing all of us.” As I said it is the flip side of “Alabama,” that tragic musical tale. Here the narrator (dead in the spirit world) reaches back and soothes the living. In some sense one might say that is what jazz as a cultural form does for those still living in this world That is, this tale is a kind of nexus—where jazz, the blues, and the gospel—meet. Yeah, one might say that this story is sermonic, better than any sermon you’ve heard or ever will hear. The text is accompanied by an audio, with Kalamu reading above the musical composition “I Remember Clifford,” by Benny Golson, recorded 31 May 1998—Munich, Germany. It is also an exposition of musical history, of an aficionado of jazz, who speaks of the role of jazz  music and the role it plays in the lives of jazzmen. This admixture this combo of music of sound and text is a beautiful moment (a bright moment), is one that is wholly enjoyable (we take pleasure here in death—O how ironic!), so much so that you will want to listen to it again. A kind of duet you’ll want to play all day and all night until your soul get rested. It’s a piece that crosses all kinds of race and class and gender lines. It is as limitless as Clifford’s spirit world. It’s about a way to live in the world, this one and the next.—Peace and blessings, Rudy

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music website > writing website > daily blog > twitter > facebook >

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Guarding the Flame of Life

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02_My_Story,_My_Song.mp3 (24503 KB)

(Kalamu reading “My Story, My Song”

Featuring blues guitarist Walter Wolfman Washington)

Track List 1.  Congo Square (9:01) 2.  My Story, My Song (20:50) 3.  Danny Banjo (4:32) 4.  Miles Davis (10:26) 5.  Hard News For Hip Harry (5:03) 6.  Unfinished Blues (4:13) 7.  Rainbows Come After The Rain (2:21)/Negroidal Noise (15:53) 8.  Intro (3:59) 9.  The Whole History (3:14) 10.  Negroidal Noise (5:39) 11.  Waving At Ra (1:40) 12.  Landing (1:21) 13.  Good Luck (:04)

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There are more African Americans under correctional control today–in prison or jail, on probation or parole—than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began. If you take into account prisoners, a large majority of African American men in some urban areas, like Chicago, have been labeled felons for life. These men are part of a growing undercaste, not class, caste—a group of people who are permanently relegated, by law, to an inferior second-class status. They can be denied the right to vote, automatically excluded from juries, and legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education and public benefits—much as their grandparents and great-grandparents once were during the Jim Crow era.—Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow

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Jackson was the original editor of Freedomways, a quarterly magazine published between 1961 and 1986, chronicling the struggle for racial justice in the U.S. The magazine featured contributions by many of the luminaries of black literature, art, and politics, including three Nobel Prize laureates: Martin Luther King Jr., Pablo Neruda, and Derek Wolcott. Other contributors included Alice Walker, James Baldwin, W. E. B. DuBois, Jomo Kenyatta, C. L. R. James, and common black folk. The collection features poetry, essays, speeches, articles. There are memoirs of a Birmingham coal miner, tributes to Paul Robeson, and reflections of black feminists, labor organizers, and prisoners. The anthology begins with articles actually written in the 1940s and 1950s, which provide historical context for the journal itself, followed by the pieces, organized topically, e.g., the Southern movement, international solidarity, the movement in the North, and art and activism. This comprehensive collection reflects the global nature of the struggle for equality and the longing for racial justice over an important 25-year period.—Vanessa Bush, Booklist

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

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posted 15 May 2010 




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