Remembrance: Paying Tribute Through The Art Of Jazz Composition

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Paying tribute to the dearly departed is simply a part of life. We honor them with words and we pay our respects through our actions as we help to keep their memory alive. In music, we pay tribute to the dead through the medium that we know best...sound. Whether we use "requiem," "threnody," "ode," "elegy," or any other number of terms, we are always simply saying "tribute through music." Music seems to be an excellent way to say "thank you," or "we miss you," or any one of a million thoughts that come to mind. Jazz, specifically, has a rich history of immortalizing the people who have had an impact on this music in song. While Lester Young
Lester Young
Lester Young
1909 - 1959
saxophone
's centennial celebration, in August of 2009, made it tempting to start with Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus
1922 - 1979
bass, acoustic
' dirge-like "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," the call of the trumpet lured me in another direction.

Old

While jazz has suffered more than its fair share of tragic deaths and premature passings, trumpet players seem to be particularly susceptible. Fats Navarro
Fats Navarro
Fats Navarro
1923 - 1950
trumpet
, Kenny Dorham
Kenny Dorham
Kenny Dorham
1924 - 1972
trumpet
, Clifford Brown
Clifford Brown
Clifford Brown
1930 - 1956
trumpet
, Booker Little
Booker Little
Booker Little
1938 - 1961
trumpet
, Lee Morgan
Lee Morgan
Lee Morgan
1938 - 1972
trumpet
and Woody Shaw
Woody Shaw
Woody Shaw
1944 - 1989
trumpet
represent a significant slice of the jazz trumpet lineage, and their lives were snuffed out too early—whether 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
Benny Golson
Benny Golson
b.1929
sax, tenor
'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 group—co-led with drummer Max Roach

Max Roach
Max Roach
1925 - 2007
drums
—was one of the most popular groups in jazz at the time of Brown's passing in June of 1956. The automobile accident that killed Brown, pianist Richie Powell
Richie Powell
b.1931
and Powell's wife Nancy (who was driving) caused shock and sadness throughout the music community. Trumpeter Art Farmer
Art Farmer
Art Farmer
1928 - 1999
flugelhorn
, in the studio at the time he heard the news, recalled that everybody tried to go on with the session but the news quickly eliminated that possibility and the session was over. Benny Golson, playing at the Apollo Theatre with Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
1917 - 1993
trumpet
at the time, has noted that everybody was in tears throughout their performance on the night that they heard about Brown's tragic passing.



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

Tadd Dameron
Tadd Dameron
1917 - 1965
arranger
and Lionel Hampton
Lionel Hampton
Lionel Hampton
1908 - 2002
vibraphone
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.

In the late 1950s, Lee Morgan
Lee Morgan
Lee Morgan
1938 - 1972
trumpet
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
Art Blakey
Art Blakey
1919 - 1990
drums
'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 upright—almost standing in salute of his fallen comrade—as 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

Bobby Timmons
Bobby Timmons
1935 - 1974
piano
' 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.

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