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I Remember Clifford (1957)

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“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

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

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