“‘Had Uncle Clifford lived, how might he revisit his music?’ That thought process led me to the concept of modern versions of his tunes – a blending of the old and the new that retains all of the integrity of the compositions and the spirit therein.”
Rayford Griffin, percussionist, composer and producer has roots that extend back to the most revolutionary era of jazz – be bop – thanks to his uncle: the great trumpeter/composer Clifford Brown. Indeed, it was being made pridefully aware of his uncle’s music very early in life by his aunt Larue Brown Watson (Clifford’s widow) and studying it that deeply influenced Rayford to become the far reaching musician that he is today. In that spirit, Rayford is in the process of completing Reflections of Brownie – his second album as a leader and his first since 2003’s Rebirth of the Cool – in a loving and fittingly innovative fashion.
In possession of a warm wrap-around tone as well as remarkable dexterity, Clifford Brown quickly rose to one of jazz trumpet’s most celebrated giants in the ’50s. Inspired by Fats Navarro, Clifford’s watershed gigs in the touring bands of Tadd Dameron and Lionel Hampton led to an impactful engagement at Birdland with drummer/band leader Art Blakey and, eventually, to his co-leading a stellar quintet with drummer Max Roach (who nicknamed him “Brownie”). He was spoken of in the same breath as trumpet peers Dizzy Gilespie and Miles Davis when at the age of only 25 his life was taken as the passenger in a fatal auto smash up. The loss is considered one of the greatest tragedies in jazz as Clifford was not only the survivor of a previous crash, but was a clean living jazz musician in an era when many of his contemporaries were heavily indulging in substances as a means to reach their creative apex. Brownie’s legacy is that of an all-natural music master.
“I’ve been wanting to do something very special with his music for years,” Rayford shares. “A few years back, I started recording some gigs around L.A. playing his music in a style faithful to the way he originally composed and performed them. When I listened back to the tapes, the performances didn’t capture the spirit I wanted to convey. I thought, ‘Really…how much better can I do this compared to the original statements he and the greats laid down?’ In my desire to take the music someplace else, I shifted my thinking. ‘Had Uncle Clifford lived, how might he revisit his music?’ That thought process led me to the concept of modern versions of his tunes – a blending of the old and the new that retains all of the integrity of the compositions and the spirit therein.”