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Cherokee: The Development of Brownie's Style

©Lewis Porter, 2008

Rutgers University/Newark


Brownie was already starting to attract attention in 1952, the year he

first recorded with Chris Powell and his Blue Flames. Here is what Tadd
Dameron had to say that year, spring of 1952—and Benny Golson was also
present at this radio station broadcast. [Audio excerpt: interview with Tadd

The Influence of Dizzy, Fats, and Miles

Dizzy influenced everyone, but this is not obvious in Clifford’s playing.

One of the keys to Brownie’s genius is the clarity and logic of his voice
leading. Dizzy’s style is much more flashy, wild, and rhythmically
unpredictable. Dizzy’s solos often turn the beat around, but he’s totally in
control of it. In fact the interesting thing is that everybody in that era – Fats
Navarro, Miles Davis, Brownie, Kenny Dorham – saw Dizzy as the king, but
almost nobody actually stayed with Dizzy’s style by the time they matured.
Dizzy's style is very personal and offbeat –to play like Dizzy is almost like a
piano player who plays like Monk, like Stan Tracey in England. It’s too
obvious that you’re copying Monk.

Here is an early Dizzy solo on “Rose Room” with John Kirby on a

radio broadcast in May 1944, where he had everything together. It’s just one
chorus but it’s unbelievable—he displays exciting virtuosity, and yet the
voice leading also is perfect. I’ll fade it in at the end of Buster Bailey’s
clarinet solo. [Audio excerpt: “Rose Room”, John Kirby Septet – Dizzy, Ben
Webster, Buster Bailey, George Johnson (alto), Kirby (bass), Ram Ramirez
(piano), Bill Beason (drums).]

Even here, Diz’s last phrase is rhythmically complex and appears to

turn the beat around. That is not typical of Fats Navarro or Brownie, or even

Fats Navarro was the one who was able to take the modern jazz style
and get away from Dizzy’s thing – though on live records especially,
Dizzy’s influence is clear. But Navarro created a lyrical flowing line on the
trumpet, with beautiful voice-leading that influenced all the trumpet players
since then. Clifford himself mentioned Fats. On the Leonard Feather
questionnaire done in 54, under "Who are your favorite musicians?"
Brownie wrote only: “The late Fats Navarro”!

Here is one of Fats’ amazing solos, “The Squirrel”, a blues by Tadd

Dameron with Dameron’s band. [Audio excerpt: 9/47 master take with Fats,
Rouse, Ernie Henry, Tadd, Boyd, Shadow Wilson.]

One thing that Clifford learned from Fats is a bluesy expressive way of
connecting choruses. You can hear it on the alternate take of “The Squirrel.”
[Audio excerpt, “The Squirrel”, alternate take, first issued ca. 1960.]

(Notice that this alternate solo is very similar to the issued take—it was
not typical of Fats to plan his solos this way.) I want to single out one phrase
that he uses to connect choruses and show you something like that in a
Brownie solo. [Audio excerpt, “The Squirrel”, alternate take at :40.]
Brownie uses a similar idea on “Joy Spring”--*not* a quote, but a similar
idea. [Audio excerpt: “Joy Spring”, end of first chorus, into second chorus.]

It’s not recognized as often, but remember that by the time Brownie
began recording in 1952 Davis was well established as a soloist and was
having an influence of his own. You can hear his influence for sure. I’m
going to use an example here of Miles from 1954, so that’s a little late for it
to be something to influence Brownie in his formative years. I’m just using
it because it’s an example of the kind of thing that Miles would do to start a
chorus, and Brownie learned from this. It’s the beginning of Miles’s solo on
“Oleo” 1954. [Audio excerpt: “Oleo.”] Compare this to the beginning of
Clifford Brown’s second chorus on “Pent Up House”—again, *not* a quote,
just a similar approach. [Audio excerpt: “Pent Up House.”]

But that’s followed by an amazing long line all in one breath, and
covering a wide range, a line that Miles would never have played. Brownie
was of course very much his own person!

Brown’s First Recording

Brown’s first known recording is a practice recording of “Ornithology”
with his teacher Boysie Lowery on alto sax—undated but maybe 1948; some
guess 1946 (based on how good Brownie may have sounded by ’49, and the
fact that the Parker recording came out in mid-’46). [Audio excerpt:

(Thanks to Don Glanden for the following details:

The Clifford and Boysie recording of Ornithology was played at the end of a
tribute concert in Wilmington on June 26, 1976. It was included on a vinyl
release of that concert which was recorded by Taylor Recording Co.
Hockessin, DE. I’m not sure when Phil Schaap discovered it and presented it
on his radio show. The date is estimated at 1949-50 in Bob Weir’s
discography which was Al Hood’s source for his Trumpet Guild
transcription. That seems a little late to me given that we know Clifford
"wowed" Dizzy's band that year after taking a year off from school before
entering Delaware State College. The Ornithology recording sounds more
"student-ish" than one would expect at that stage. Jimmy Heath also said that
Clifford blew away Bill Massey at The Spot by early 1951. We place the
Ornithology recording at circa 1947 in our documentary.)

“Cherokee” as a “Test Piece” in Jazz History, and Its Significance for


Now, one of the cornerstone pieces for learning the new music of bebop
was the tune “Cherokee.”

The blues was the first medium for soloing in jazz. Almost all of the
early recorded jazz solos of any length are on blues numbers—
“Dippermouth Blues,” etc. And, of course, the blues remains to this day an
essential part of the jazz repertory, and of the jazz language even when
playing on forms other than blues. Soon, the last strain of “Tiger Rag” (first
recorded in 1918) became a favorite vehicle for improvisation, in addition to
the blues. Then, from 1930, “Rhythm Changes” was considered the test of
an advanced soloist. In the bebop era “Rhythm Changes” became standard,
while “Cherokee” became known as the test of an advanced soloist. Since
the 1960s the test pieces for advanced soloists have been “Giant Steps,”
some of Wayne Shorter’s changes, etc.

Now let’s look at a leadsheet of Cherokee, with the words. [Visual:

leadsheet of “Cherokee.”]

Cherokee was studied, not for the A sections, but for the bridge that
uses a sequence of two-five-ones descending by whole steps. As Jimmy
Heath points out in my Coltrane book, one of the main differences between
the boppers and the previous generation is that where the previous
generation would learn things in a few keys – C, G, B flat, E flat, maybe D
flat, -- the boppers would try to learn things in every key. They could take
the 2-5-1 sequence in the bridge of Cherokee and continue it through all

For an example of the previous generation, here is Lester Young, one of

the main influences on Charlie Parker, Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Dexter
Gordon, etc., He recorded “Cherokee” only once in his life, and that was
with the Count Basie Big Band in 2/39. Listen—it was in two parts—two
sides of a 78rpm record—and you can hear where the 78 is turned over.
[Audio excerpt: “Cherokee.”]
Yes, I’m sorry to tell you, he doesn’t solo on the bridge. In fact, they
are just riffing on the A section and they don’t even play the bridge except in
the beginning of the recording. Very few swing players were going to
improvise over a sequence of 2-5-1’s starting in concert B major.
Trombonist Benny Morton does do it earlier on the same recording, but he
just plays long tones. (He is followed by Dicky Wells who solos on A
sections only.)

“Cherokee” was first recorded by Spud Murphy 4/38, then by its

composer, British bandleader Ray Noble in NY 10/38. Then Basie 2/39, then
Charlie Barnet 7/39, then studio recordings and many broadcasts/gigs of
Jimmy Dorsey in 1939-40, and broadcasts of Krupa in 1940, plus Harry
James on gigs/broadcasts, and a few European bands (Jean Omer in
Belgium). I haven’t heard them all but so far I’ve heard none where anybody
improvises on the bridge of “Cherokee” before the bebop era..

Charlie Parker was famously quoted as saying that he came alive by

working on the higher intervals of the chords of “Cherokee.” Now, it’s
turned out that that wasn’t a quote, but actually a paraphrase by journalists.
Still, it has to be true, because first of all a journalist as a rule doesn’t know
anything about changes and they certainly wouldn’t have known that Charlie
Parker was interested in working on higher intervals of “Cherokee.”
But second of all, and this is the ultimate proof, Bird played and recorded
“Cherokee” a lot, especially in his earliest years.

Here are the first versions of “Cherokee” by Charlie Parker that exist:

There are two from 1942—both are undated so nobody knows which
came first. First let’s hear one with J. McShann’s band from Kansas City
performing in NYC—“Cherokee” was one of Bird’s features with that band.
Pay attention to the way he negotiates the bridge-- he has certain patterns
that he almost always uses, and usually in this order. [Demonstrates the two
bridge patterns at the piano: the first bridge, then the second.]

Here is the second version from 1942. It is accompanied only by a

guitar player named Efferge Ware: does he use the same patterns on the
bridges? Listen, and tell me what you think. [Audio excerpt: “Cherokee”,

Of course his most famous version is the one that became called Koko
from his very first session as a leader, Nov. 1945. [Audio excerpt: “Koko”,
first take.]

Yes that was the first take which is not so well known. The voice at the
end was the producer of Savoy records, Teddy Reig, interrupting them
saying “Wait---you can’t… [play that theme]”---because they were supposed
to be recording originals. When they recorded originals he could copyright
them to Savoy music and make what little money there was to be made on
the original. If they recorded standards by other composers, not only didn’t
he make any money, but he’d have to pay to pay a fee to their publisher.

Then came the famous version of “Koko”, and I’m just going to play
Bird’s solo, and again listen to what he plays on the bridges—if you wish,
you can follow the transcription on the screen. By the way, notice the highly
chromatic line leading into the bridge of the second chorus. [Audio excerpt:
Bird’s solo on “Koko”.]

Now, don’t overlook the informal version of “Cherokee” that was

captured earlier at this same date. It was a kind of a sound check, and the
engineer started recording in the middle of the performance. This is the most
lyrical and free improvisation Bird ever recorded on “Cherokee”--maybe
because it’s an informal jam, and not an official recording, and maybe
because Bird had already played a few choruses and was warmed up, and
maybe because the tempo is slower and more relaxed. But whatever the
reason, here he plays beautiful phrases on the bridge that are not dependent
on the licks he’d been using up to now, and that he would use later that
afternoon when he recorded Koko. So, here is “Warming Up A Riff” with
Dizzy on piano, Curley Russell bass, Max Roach drums-- you can follow the
transcription on the screen. [Audio excerpt: “Warming Up A Riff.”]

You can hear Dizzy laughing a little bit at the end when Bird quotes
“Cocktails for Two.”

Now, there are lots of other great performances of “Cherokee”—Bud

Powell’s trio version from 1949, also with Max, is one of the most amazing
piano recordings of all time. Of course Sonny Rollins made a famous one
called “B Quick” in 1956—again with Max!

Brownie and “Cherokee”

But we also have quite a few recordings of Brownie playing

“Cherokee.” In fact other than playing the blues, with various titles,
especially his own “Daahoud” (which survives in live recordings that he
didn’t intend for issue), “Cherokee” may be the standard that we have him
playing more often than any other—if you include live recordings and home
recordings that he didn’t intend for release. There are 6 versions of
“Cherokee”, plus 2 alternate takes, for a total of 8 versions. So, we’re not
going to hear them all. But there’s a lot to learn from them.

First and foremost, nobody ever talks about development in the styles
of jazz artists like Charlie Parker and Clifford Brown. They always talk as
though they played the same from the beginning to the end of their careers.
Bird’s playing in 1952 live at the Rockland Palace is a world away from the
way he played on “Koko” in 1945. In fact his playing between say 1950 and
1953 is amazing musically and technically – incredibly fluent and virtuosic.

Similarly, although everybody likes to say that Brownie arrived as a

full-blown mature artist etc., I think it’s more interesting and more
enlightening to observe that, yes, he sounds great on his first recordings in
1952, but let’s give him credit that he was always working practicing,
learning and developing.

His first version of “Cherokee” was for Blue Note with John Lewis,
Percy Heath, Art Blakey. Charlie Rouse, and Gigi Gryce.

[Audio excerpt: “Cherokee”, Blue Note 8/28/53, issued take, take 2.]

Notes on take 2:

• Little quote in second A

• First bridge a little like Bird

• Squeaks on high note of run at start of last A

• Does his favorite upward repeated arpeggio in 2nd A second chorus.

• Really starts to take charge at end of 2nd chorus and start of trading
with Blakey.

[Audio excerpt: “Cherokee”, Blue Note 8/28/53, alternate take, take 1.]

Notes on take 1:

• Brownie swallows a few notes during first A.

• Bridge is nice, and original.

• Lewis plays theme under last A—is it too much?

• 2nd chorus—nice flowing lines.

• Ends 2nd chorus with a favorite descending line of his.

• He gets a bit sloppy during trading.

• On the last bridge after trading, he uses Bird licks.

Many people missed his next version of “Cherokee”, exactly one month
later, because it was a bit disguised. On tour with Hampton in Paris, 9/28/53:
“Brown Skins” by Gigi Gryce—slow theme goes into “Cherokee” (at about
2:22). Nice and flowing—a bit undermiked. He misses the last note.
[Audio excerpt: “Brown Skins”, take 2, master take.]

Notes on take 2 (Master Take):

• “Cherokee” begins at about 2:18.

• Nice first bridge!

• His rising arpeggios are in last A. Nice high notes and blue notes to end
chorus 1.

• Second bridge is relaxed—no patterns.

• After 16 bars by the band he comes in on high notes on the bridge


• Ending is more solid.

There is also a live version with the Hampton band from this tour.

Now, let’s turn to Roach-Brown AKA Brown-Roach (it appears that

both name orders were used, perhaps one for recordings and one for live
gigs). You can follow the transcription on the screen –Please note that this is
in trumpet key from the book transcribed by Ken Slone.

[Audio excerpt: “Cherokee”, 2/25/55.]

• Very LONG lines, full tone—a bit rough but overall much more
flowing than in 1953.

• Rough at beginning of first bridge.

• Second chorus—tries lick at end of first A, gets it start of second A.

• Second bridge uses a little of Bird.

• After him, Harold Land is great and so fluent at this tempo—let’s hear
a little.

The famous practice tape is undated but goes here somewhere. [Audio
excerpt: “Cherokee”, practice tape. Discussion of his practice tapes in
general—how many, what one hears on them, etc.]

Finally, there is the quintet with Rollins (who had just joined) live at
the Beehive in Chicago, 11/7/55. (Thanks to Don Glanden for the info that
this was released by Lion Hill in 2004.)

You can follow the transcription on the screen – please note that this is
in trumpet key from the big Brownie solos book transcribed by Mark Lewis
and published by Charles Colin music. [Audio excerpt: “Cherokee”,

Brownie is incredibly fluent at this crazy speed! Soon it becomes a duet

of trumpet and drums! And it’s quite free! Who knows where Brownie
would have gone next!

©Lewis Porter, 2008