A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
Tenor saxophonist/composer Benny Golson composed “I Remember Clifford” and a lament for the postbop trumpeter Clifford Brown in 1957. Brown was one of the brightest stars of the postbop style when he was tragically killed in a car accident when he was only 25 years old.

“I Remember Clifford” is a mournful yet beautiful ballad which has become a favorite of jazz musicians on all instruments. This tune is a good example of a jazz tune that wasn’t originally a popular or musical theater song, while still kind of sounding like one. There was still a lot of mutual influence between the jazz and pop music worlds in the mid- to late- 1950s, and it’s reflected in Golson’s composition.

Here are some recommended recordings/videos:
(for international readers who may not have access to these YouTube links, I’ve indicated the original album names wherever possible so you can listen to them on music streaming services, etc.)

The Art Farmer/Benny Golson Jazztet: I Remember Clifford

Modern Jazz Quartet

Donald Byrd: Nica’s Tempo

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
Even though “I Remember Clifford” was written specifically as a “jazz ballad,” meaning that it wasn’t a pop song in any way, it still shares many characteristics with standards from The Great American Songbook. This means that you can approach it the same way you would play songs like “Body And Soul” and “Misty.”

The tune’s musical form and structure is very interesting. Golson starts out with a short verse, just like the old standards did. (Most of the verses, though aren’t played much and don’t appear in The Real Book.) And although the main melody is in the standard AABA format, the phrases unfold in a fluid, almost “through-composed” manner. It’s very beautiful. Golson then brings back the verse as a coda at the very end.

Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”

Further links and resources:
I Remember Clifford
A nice article about composer Benny Golson and his inspiration for this tune

I Remember Clifford: Journey Through The Real Book #165

How To Learn Jazz Piano
A podcast to help you learn jazz piano more effectively

Jazz Piano Video Course
This extensive, well-sequenced video course will get you playing jazz standards with a sense of flow and fluency.

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