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January 13, 1999

Two Stories: Stan Getz and Clifford Brown

Walter Norris [Hall of Fame 1995 | Recordings]

Stan Getz

During January 1958, Stan was booked in San Francisco's Blackhawk Club with Billy Higgins, Scott LaFaro and myself as the rhythm section. I had met and spoken with Stan the week before in Los Angeles and was surprised at his glow and healthy condition.

He explained that this was due to his being under a doctor's care for the previous months and that the doctor was giving a medication to remove the need for hard drugs plus a number of preparations to stimulate the immune system, thus increasing his stamina and mental alertness. Stan said he had never felt better.

I believe to this day that this engagement at the Blackhawk was musically the peak of Stan's career. He was magically successful with each and every idea-phrase attempted night after night. I have never heard a recording where he played with more maturity. The club was packed for all sets and one could easily hear a pin drop.

Unfortunately, Stan fell under the influence during the last set and returned to a drug induced state. Although his playing was flawless, there was a positive glow and spark missing, rather a coldness of emotional expression, for he was unable to obtain that quality of "joyful love" in his improvisations.

Clifford Brown

But let me follow with a story about Clifford Brown. Clifford never smoked, drank or used anything detrimental to his health. He was married and had the good judgement to buy two life insurance policies for his wife. Unfortunately, he died in an auto accident at the tender age of twenty-four.

Herb Geller told me about one evening where he, Clifford, Richard Powell and Max Roach had to wait a long time in Max's apartment for the bassist to arrive from another engagement. Max had a set of vibes and Clifford asked if he could try playing them. Clifford begins with a chromatic scale very slowly and next to a major scale and then still very slowly with a few arpeggios. After twenty minutes Clifford was improvising with as much virtuosity as he possessed on trumpet. Every one present was amazed.

***

Regards to everyone and best wishes for the New Year '99...the last year of this century as well as this millenium.

Walter Norris

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