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by Clifford Brown


Clifford Brown

Clifford Brown ("Brownie")


This article has to be based on guesswork. I can find no information online about why Clifford Brown called his tune Sandu, and of course we cannot ask him. Nevertheless it is a great track with possibly interesting links and worth spending time with. Sandu is a 12 bar blues in Eb - a less common key for a blues.


Listen to Sandu.




The tune came out on the 1955 Study In Brown album by Clifford Brown (trumpet) and Max Roach (drums) with George Morrow (bass); Richie Powell (piano) and Harold Land (tenor saxophone). Most of the tunes on the album are originals by Brown, Powell and Land but Billy Strayhorn's Take The A Train is included as is Ray Noble's Cherokee on which Clifford Brown's breakneck solo has become one of the most acclaimed in jazz.


Listen to Cherokee.




Trumpeter Clifford Brown was born on 30th October 1930 in Wilmington, Delaware. He was one of four boys whose father, also a trumpeter, organised his sons as a vocal quartet. Clifford was fascinated by his father's trumpet and started having trumpet lessons at school when he was about ten. At thirteen, his father bought him his own trumpet; he began taking private lessons and at junior high school he joined a jazz group arranged by a teacher. Clifford went on to Delaware State University to read Maths but soon transferred to Maryland State College with its musical strand and he went frequently to Philadelphia for the music there. By now he was playing in the fourteen strong, jazz-oriented Maryland State Band.

In June 1950 after a gig, Clifford was seriously injured in a car accident. He was hospitalised for a year and afterwards he was limited to playing the piano for some months. For the rest of his short life he continued to suffer with his shoulder dislocating. Nevertheless, during his stay in hospital he was visited by Dizzy Gillespie who encouraged him to continue with his playing and eventually Clifford started to play professionally. He quickly became a respected jazz musician.

Clifford's interest in the music had been stimulated by meeting Fats Navarro when he was just fifteen. He shared 'Navarro's virtuosic technique and brilliance of invention. His sound was warm and round, and notably consistent across the full range of the instrument. He could Clifford Brown and Max Roacharticulate every note, even at very fast tempos which seemed to present no difficulty to him; this served to enhance the impression of his speed of execution. His sense of harmony was highly developed, enabling him to deliver bold statements through complex harmonic progressions (chord changes), and embodying the linear, "algebraic" terms of bebop harmony. In addition to his up-tempo prowess, he could express himself deeply in a ballad performance' (Wikipedia).

'Brownie' as he became known, recorded and performed with Tadd Dameron, J.J. Johnson, Lionel Hampton, and Art Blakey amongst others. He formed his own band with drummer Max Roach and their Quintet became established as one of the leading 'hard bop' groups, writing and playing their own music. When saxophinist Harold Land left the group, he was replaced by Sonny Rollins and the band shone ever brighter. Clifford did not 'do drugs or alcohol' and Sonny Rollins has said: "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."


Clifford Brown and Max Roach


Tragedy struck in June 1956 when Brownie and pianist Richie Powell set off to drive to a gig in Chicago. Richie's wife Nancy was driving so that the men could sleep, but it was night and raining when they reached the Pennsylvania Turnpike. It is thought that Nancy lost control of the car, which went off the road, killing all three in the resulting crash. Clifford Brown is buried in Mt. Zion Cemetery, in Wilmington, Delaware. He was just 24 years old.

His influence lived on through trumpeters such as Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan; he left behind a number of tunes that have become jazz standards; he had won the Down Beat critics' poll for 'New Star of the Year' in 1954, and he was inducted into the Down Beat "Jazz Hall of Fame" in 1972 in the critics' poll. Each year, Wilmington hosts the Clifford Brown Jazz Festival. Brownie Speaks, a video documentary, is the culmination of years of research by Wilmington-born jazz pianist Don Glanden. The research included interviews with Clifford's friends, family, contemporaries, and fans. Glanden's son Brad edited these interviews, along with archival materials and newly shot video footage. The documentary premiered in 2008 at the "Brownie Speaks" Clifford Brown Symposium hosted by the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.


Brownie Speaks is available on DVD - here is the trailer.




There is little film archive footage of Clifford Brown - this video of him playing Lady Be Good and Memories Of You in 1955 is said to be the only film that exists. The sound quality is poor but thankfully we still have his recorded music.




One of those numbers from Clifford Brown that became a 'jazz standard' is Sandu.

Let's start with another tune on an album from a year before - Daahood - from Study In Brown, with the same personnel line up. I had always taken the title to mean 'Daa hood' (the neighbourhood) but not so. There is interesting correspondence here about the origin of that tune. One writer, Idris, says: "He (Clifford Brown) named the tune after Talib Dawud, my father.  Dawud is the Arabic eqivalent of David, meaning "my beloved". They were trumpet-playing acquaintences in Philly in the early '50s, along with Diz and Lee".  In a later comment, Idris says: "To go a little further, there was the more well-known side of jazz musicians who used drugs, but there was also a very straight laced, spiritual crop of guys too, but you'll never hear about that.  A lot of these guys studied and some adopted Middle Eastern religions, including Diz and Art.  Coltrane was studying too, and it influenced his later music a lot".


Listen to Daahood.




Idris later accepts a different explanation from a jazz historian who links Daahood to pianist Roosevelt Wardell: "Roosevelt "Daahoud" Wardell - Spirituality and music are often said to go hand in hand, but rarely are they merged as clearly as in the essence of pianist Roosevelt Wardell.  The descendent of a long line of clergymen dating back to pre-slavery Egypt, Mr. Wardell is perhaps best known by his family's spiritual name, Daahoud and as the subject of trumpeter Clifford Brown's famous composition by the same name. Mr. Wardell's musical training was informal; he taught himself and learned from the many family members who sang or played musical instruments. His inspiration for playing the piano at an early age came from his partially paralyzed brother. He vividly remembers sitting behind the old upright piano as his brother played and continuing the music himself when his brother took a break. After a few private lessons from a local music teacher and some training in public school, Mr. Wardell left his hometown of Baltimore to make his New York debut at Harlem's famed Apollo Theater in 1950 at merely age 16.  After a two-month stint at the Club Lido in New York, he returned to Baltimore to finish school, stopping here in Wilmington on his way.  Mr. Wardell returned to make Wilmington his permanent home in 1978 after many years of touring with musicians such as Mantan Moreland, Big Joe Turner, and Max Roach ......".

As for Sandu, recorded in 1955, there seems to be no reference linking it to another person, nor to people or places that fit 'S and U', so what follows is conjecture ....

Sandu is one of four districts of the Upper River Division of The Republic of Gambia in West Africa. The Gambia was a key location in the slave trade - 'As many as three million people may have been taken as slaves from this general region during the three Gambia Slave noticecenturies that the transatlantic slave trade operated. It is not known how many people were taken as slaves by intertribal wars or Muslim traders before the transatlantic slave trade began. Most of those taken were sold by other Africans to Europeans: some were prisoners of intertribal wars; some were victims sold because of unpaid debts; and many others were simply victims of kidnapping ........'


Poster for sale of slaves Jufureh Slave Museum (Gambia)


'.... Europeans also figure prominently in Gambian history because the River Gambia is navigable deep into the continent, a geographic feature that made this area one of the most profitable sites for the slave trade from the 15th through the 17th centuries. (It also made it strategic to the halt of this trade once it was outlawed in the 19th century.) Some of this history was popularised in the Alex Haley book (1976) and TV series Roots (1977) which was set in the Gambia'. The book and television series are clearly too late to be linked to the tune. Slavery was abolished in the Gambia in 1906.

The Mandinka is the largest ethnicity group in The Gambia. 'More than 99% of Mandinka in contemporary Africa are Muslim. Between the 16th and 19th century, many Muslim and non-Muslim Mandinka people, along with numerous other African ethnic groups, were captured, enslaved and shipped to the Americas. They intermixed with slaves and workers of other ethnicities, creating a Creole culture. The Mandinka people significantly influenced the African heritage of descended peoples now found in the Caribbean, Brazil and the southern United States ..'

It might be possible that some of this history or people from the area were known to Clifford Brown, but there is no record of that.


For a fairly brief saxophone interpretation of Sandu - try this one by another 'Brown' - tenor saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown with Steven Feifke (piano); Raviv Markovitz (bass) and Jimmy Macbride (drums):





Sandu bottle





If we pick up on the spiritual interests of jazz musicians at the time Daahood and Sandu were written, another alternative is a pharmacuetical company named 'Sandu' that has marketed Ayurvedic products for over 100 years. There is a link here to 'the East (India)' and the 'Spiritual' : 'Ayurved' is an ancient healing system, wherein “Ayu” means "Life" and “Veda” means knowledge. Ayurveda originated as part of ‘Vedic Science’. 

The fundamentals of Ayurveda can be found in all the Vedic scriptures namely Rugveda, Atharvaveda, Yajurved and Samaved. This is an integral spiritual science devised to give a comprehensive understanding of the entire universe, which it sees as working according to a single law. In contrary to the popular misbelief, Ayurveda is not a mere alternative therapy but a way of life, which, if followed religiously, can help one attain a better physical, emotional, social and spiritual life. For curing diseases, Ayurveda insists on treating and eradicating the root cause of the ailment instead of satisfying the patient with symptomatic relief'. (details). Again, this is a very tenuous link.




Alexander The Great


Returning to links to people, 'Sandu' is a family surname, and so it is possible that Clifford Brown knew someone of that name. The 'Name Doctor' tells us that 'This name (Sandu) derives from the Ancient Greek name “Aléxandros (Αλέξανδρος)”, composed of two elements: “aléxō ‎(ἀλέξω)” (keep off, turn aside, guard, protect, defend, help) plus “anḗr ‎(ἀνήρ) andrós ‎(ἀνδρός)” (man “adult male”, husband). In turn the name means “defending men, protector of men”. This definition is an example of the widespread motif of Greek (or Indo-European more generally) names expressing "battle-prowess", in this case the ability to withstand or push back an enemy battle line. The name was one of the titles, "epithets", given to the Greek goddess Hera and as such is usually taken to mean "one who comes to save warriors".

Alexander The Great


The most famous person linked to this root is Alexander the Great, who created one of the largest empires in ancient history'. We know there was an 'Alexander' who had a Ragtime Band, but that is stretching links too far.


On YouTube there are many examples of people who have videod themselves doing covers of Sandu on various instruments, although it is a brave trumpeter who tries to equal Clifford Brown. There is even a Ska version. Having listened to many of these videos I have not been inspired to share them here, so I will leave you with one that did work for me. Here are Scott Gilman (tenor sax); Dan Boissy (alto sax); Cengiz Yaltkaya (piano), Jeff Miley (guitar); Joseph Pernicano (bass) and Gary Gibbons (drums) recorded on the 28th January, 2015 at the Los Angeles Jazz Channel studio.





At the end of the day, there is no immediate evidence of why Clifford Brown gave Sandu its name ...... but perhaps someone knows or can find out more .....?



Clifford Brown



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