Remembrance: Paying Tribute Through The Art Of Jazz Composition
While jazz has suffered more than its fair share of tragic deaths and premature passings, trumpet players seem to be particularly susceptible. Fats Navarro, Kenny Dorham, Clifford Brown, Booker Little, Lee Morgan and Woody Shaw represent a significant slice of the jazz trumpet lineage, and their lives were snuffed out too earlywhether by disease, semi-natural causes or tragic accident. While the memory of all these men lives on through their music, Brown was also the recipient of one of the most enduring jazz tribute songs ever written. Benny Golson's "I Remember Clifford" has proven, over time, to be one of the most oft-covered and recognizable musical memorials that jazz has ever known. A virtual who's who of jazz artists, regardless of their instrument of choice, has performed it at one time or another.
Brown, who exemplified clean living and hard work, was a shining light in the jazz world, and his groupco-led with drummer Max Roach
and Lionel Hampton in the early 1950s, and both men were considered to be rising stars. With Brown's legacy and life on his mind, Golson wrote this composition and it has become an essential part of the standard jazz repertoire.
While Roach penned a number of pieces, including "Tender Warriors" in honor of Brown and Powell, and "Praise For A Martyr," which was specifically for Brown, it's Golson's "I Remember Clifford" that has proven to be the most memorable tribute. Golson and Brown had worked together in the bands of Tadd Dameron
In the late 1950s, Lee Morgan performed one of the most stirring renditions of this piece. With his own tragic demise many years off in the future, Morgan was considered, at this time, to be one of the up-and-coming trumpet players, and he was holding down the trumpet chair in one of the most prestigious groups in jazz: Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. The Jazz Icons DVD series, which has put out some amazing, previously unreleased jazz concerts from the past, gave the world a great visual of Morgan performing this song with The Jazz Messengers on their Live in '58 (Jazz Icons, 2006).
Morgan, intensely observing his fingers, delivers the familiar melody with elegant ornamentation, passion and care. Golson, the composer, stands to Morgan's side and remains completely uprightalmost standing in salute of his fallen comradeas he gently provides some long mournful tones beneath the trumpet.
Every jazz tribute song walks a fine line between respectfully honoring the deceased and addressing the joy that their music brought to the world. That joy is addressed when the quintet moves into double-time for Bobby Timmons' piano solo and Morgan's trumpet follow-up. The music returns to its more reverential roots as it nears its end, but by this point the two-tiered message of the song has been delivered and the band brings the song to an end. It's another example of musical triumph born of tragedy.