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I Remember Clifford, a theme by Benny Golson for his friend Clifford Brown

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[Monday's Note 98] I Remember Clifford was composed by Benny Golson as a tribute to Clifford Brown who died tragically in a car accident. However, the piece does not express despair, it is music inspired more by the memory of the friend than by the sorrow for his death.

Benny Golson is a composer with an unmistakable personality, particularly for his typical harmonic progressions. On the other hand, the saxophonist is very varied in his choice of styles, ranging from ballads to hard bop, from funky rhythms to Caribbean sounds.

I Remember Clifford has a very peculiar form. We can clearly recognise the classic AABA structure, however the [A] sections are not exactly identical but have some differences, both in chords and duration. The theme is also encircled by a beautiful introduction, which also serves as an ending.

Here is a summary of the structure, with the duration of the different sections.

Introduction 6 measures
[A1] 8 measures
[A2] 12 measures
[B] 4 measures
[A3] 8 measures
Coda 8 measures

The main theme [A] thus returns three times, but is always varied. The harmonic progression is very interesting. In the first four measures, the piece starts from Eb and ascends almost chromatically along the scale; the bass line is in fact formed by E♭, G, A♭, A, B♭, B, C.

We note that starting from Eb, the progression has thus reached the 6th degree C, the relative minor key. In the next four measures, the piece moves in the opposite, descending direction. The bass line is formed by C B♭ A G F E and then concludes on the chords Fm7 B♭7 E♭, i.e. on the perfect cadence II V I.

I Remember Clifford-tema principale

Despite the sophisticated harmonic construction, the melody always remains natural and beautiful. The main theme [A], with its repetitions and variable metrics, seems to express a memory that is deep within us and emerges when we least expect it.

In this tasteful version, the theme is played beautifully by Art Farmer on trumpet, while Curtis Fuller (trombone) and Benny Golson himself (tenor sax) perform simple but effective backing harmonies. I Remember Clifford is a farewell gift for Clifford Brown, but also for ourselves who can still hear these wonderful notes.

Until next Monday!

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