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I Remember Clifford (1957)

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Origin and Chart Information
“He was a king uncrowned.”

- Jon Hendricks

Rank 138
Music Benny Golson
Lyrics Jon Hendricks

“Threnody,” as the dictionary defines it, perfectly describes this lamentation for the death of the great trumpeter Clifford Brown, born in 1930, who died before his time at age 25 in a car accident. Professionally he was admired for his technique, his emotional, warm delivery, and his sense of rhythm. But it was his personality and his kindness that elevated his stature beyond that of just an intensely admired musician. Fellow trumpeter Art Farmer called him a “Sweet Cat.”


More on Clifford Brown at JazzBiographies.com

In 1954 Brown teamed with drummer Max Roach to form one of the most admired groups in jazz although it lasted only 27 months, cut short by Brown’s death in 1956 which produced a groundswell of grief in the jazz community.


More on Benny Golson at JazzBiographies.com

More on Jon Hendricks at JazzBiographies.com

In 1957 saxophonist and bandleader Benny Golson composed a moving elegy to Brown for which Jon Hendricks later contributed lyrics. Hendricks memorialized Brown’s legacy with these words:

I only know that I hear him now
And I believe that I always will
You’ve got to believe
I remember Clifford still, yes I hear him still
I know he’ll never be forgotten
He was a king uncrowned

Golson and Brown had played together in the bands of Tadd Dameron and Lionel Hampton. Golson remembers Brown as the complete trumpeter who had mastered the entire range of his instrument and was equally at home with ballads and breakneck tempos. Brown was also a composer of note. “Joy Spring” and “Daahoud” became major components of the jazz repertoire.


More on Dizzy Gillespie at JazzBiographies.com

While Golson has composed other jazz standards, “Killer Joe,” Stablemates,” and “Whisper Not,” “I Remember Clifford” is his most recorded composition. Dizzy Gillespie’s band, which included Golson, introduced it at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1957, and it was subsequently picked up by both instrumentalists and vocalists: Art Farmer, the MJQ, Bud Powell, Oscar Peterson, the Jazz Messengers, Lee Morgan, Carmen McRae, and Keith Jarrett. In 1954 vocalist Vaughan recorded Sarah Vaughan with Clifford Brown, one of her most memorable albums. She performs the song on a newly released DVD of a concert recorded in Prague in 1978. Helen Merrill, who also recorded with Brown in 1954, avoided recording the song until 1994 when she featured it in her tribute album, Brownie. The Manhattan Transfer included it in their 1985 Vocalese album, for which they won three of twelve Grammy nominations. In 1992 Arturo Sandoval released an album dedicated to Brown appropriately entitled I Remember Clifford.

Brown has been honored in many other ways as well. The Philadelphia musicians union set up a scholarship fund in his honor, and the Clifford Brown Jazz Festival was established in Wilmington, Delaware. In 1995 choreographer Twyla Tharp created a dance for Hubbard Street Dance entitled “I Remember Clifford” which concluded with the Golson piece. Nick Catalano published his biography in 2001 entitled Clifford Brown: The Life and Art of the Legendary Jazz Trumpeter.

- Sandra Burlingame

Music and Lyrics Analysis

Musical analysis of “I Remember Clifford”

Original KeyDb major
FormA1 - A2 - B - A3. The original version also includes a six-measure intro.
TonalityPrimarily major; frequent embellishment of secondary dominants by half-diminished (m7(b5)) chords creates a dark, haunting quality (see Comments).
MovementFollowing an initial downward movement, the melodic contour moves generally upward to its highest pitch in m. 7 of “B.” There is a fairly abrupt descent in the last four measures of the song, in which there is a descending leap of a ninth before the final melodic phrase.

Comments     (assumed background)

As a memorial to one who died prematurely, this tune is appropriately mournful. The opening measures of “A” recall the sound of old-time spirituals with ascending harmonic progression and lyrical, primarily diatonic melody. As the tune progresses, however, Golson uses more of the sonorities and harmonic devices associated with jazz of the “cool” period. Altered and extended chords and chromatic alterations in the melody are frequent; many melodic tones land on the extended notes of the underlying chord. The melody, lacking much in the way of repetition or motivic development, is unpredictable and may prove difficult for the novice.
K. J. McElrath - Musicologist for JazzStandards.com

Check out K. J. McElrath’s book of Jazz Standards Guide Tone Lines at his web site (www.bardicle.com).
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Music & Lyrics Analysis
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Jazz History Notes
Getting Started
CD Recommendations
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By the Same Writers...

Jazz History Notes

It seems only fitting that saxophonist/composer Benny Golson’s tune has been covered by many of Clifford Brown’s contemporary trumpet-playing colleagues. Donald Byrd’s version from January 1957 presaged Golson’s appearance on the heart-felt recording by Lee Morgan that same year. Morgan would reprise his performance several times in 1958 while on tour with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.

One of Clifford Brown’s influences was Dizzy Gillespie, who recorded two fine renditions with his big band in July, 1957: a live version, from the Newport Jazz Festival, and a studio session two days later. Benny Golson was again on hand, and he contributed a more elaborate arrangement for Gillespie’s contingent.

Trumpeter Art Farmer, who co-led a fine ensemble with composer Golson for a number of years, took his turn on the tune in a 1960 session with laudable results.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Donald Byrd
Jazz Lab and Modern Jazz Perspective
Collectables 5674

Lee Morgan
The Very Best
Blue Note Records 77399

Art Blakey
Hard Bop and Paris Concert
Collectables 5675

Dizzy Gillespie
At Newport
Polygram Records 13754

Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy: The Music of John Birks Gillespie

Art Farmer, Benny Golson
Meet the Jazztet
Original recording 1960
Getting Started
This section suggests definitive or otherwise significant recordings that will help jazz students get acquainted with “I Remember Clifford.” These recordings have been selected from the Jazz History and CD Recommendations sections.

Among the many wonderful small-group performances of “I Remember Clifford,” none surpass the soulful expressiveness of the 1957 performance by an 18-year-old Lee Morgan (The Very Best), one of the greatest of the many trumpet players for whom Clifford Brown was a primary role model. Later that year, Dizzy Gillespie, one of Brown’s own heroes, had a mid-career highlight with his definitive big band version of the tune (At Newport). The tune has been recorded less often by vocalists, but there are several great versions, particularly one by Brown associate Dinah Washington in 1958 (Compact Jazz: Dinah Washington). Notably, composer Benny Golson appears on all of these recordings.

Noah Baerman - Jazz Pianist and Educator

CD Recommendations for This Tune
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Dinah Washington
Compact Jazz: Dinah Washington
Polygram Records
Original recording 1958

With a tastefully orchestrated backing, vocalist Washington sings “I Remember Clifford” with elegance and reverence.

Nancy Wilson, George Shearing
Swingin's Mutual
Blue Note Records

This ballad performance puts Wilson’s gorgeous vocals atop the classic “Shearing sound” featuring the vibraphone of Warren Chiasson.

Modern Jazz Quartet
European Concert, Volumes 1 & 2
Collectables Records
Original recording 1960

The Modern Jazz Quartet was nothing if not elegant. This gentle recording, featuring excellent solos by John Lewis and Milt Jackson, is a fabulous example of that.

Bud Powell, Don Byas
Tribute to Cannonball (Reis)

Pianist Powell recorded this rendition of “I Remember Clifford” in Paris with bassist Pierre Michelot, drummer Kenny Clarke and saxophonist Don Byas. Byas and Powell are at their most lyrical on the recording, which has an extra layer of poignancy given that Powell’s brother, pianist Richie Powell, lost his life in the same car wreck that took Brown’s

Sonny Rollins
Best of the Complete Sonny Rollins RCA Victor Recordings
Original recording 1964

With a piano-less rhythm section and guest Thad Jones, saxophonist Rollins offers a very exploratory tribute to his fallen friend and colleague. His emotional solo introduction is particularly noteworthy.


- Noah Baerman

Willie Bobo
Uno Dos Tres/Spanish Grease
1994 Verve 314521664
Original recording 1965
One of the greatest Latin jazz albums contains one of the finest versions of the song. Master percussionist Bobo infuses a little spice into this slow burning track.
Ron Carter
The Bass and I
1997 Blue Note 59698
Original recording 1997
Ron Carter presents pure sophistication on this arrangement. Both the bassist and pianist Stephen Scott play with a razor sharp intensity that is tempered only by the graceful elegance of the piece.
Gonzalo Rubalcaba
Blue Note Records

Bass player Ron Carter appears once again on this rendition though at a markedly slower tempo. Pianist Rubalcaba painstakingly arranges his reading to savor every single note.
Helen Merrill
Brownie: Tribute to Clifford Brown
1994 Polygram Records 522363

Although Merrill’s age peeks out on this hard-to-find CD, hers is a meaningful reading of the song that pays homage to her good friend trumpeter Clifford Brown who died very young. She’s backed by a bevy of fine trumpeters--Roy Hargorve, Wallace Roney, Lew Soloff, and Tom Harrell--and a first class rhythm section.

- Ben Maycock

Written by the Same Composer(s)...
This section shows the jazz standards written by the same writing team.

Benny Golson and Jon Hendricks

Year Rank Title
1957 138 I Remember Clifford

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