Today In Jazz

Happy Birthday Buddy DeFranco!

February 17

American music lost one of its great artists this past December, when Buddy DeFranco passed away at the age of 91. DeFranco, born in 1923 in Clifton, NJ, was a supremely gifted jazz improviser. Musicians and discerning fans appreciated him almost from his fledgling efforts, and he was a consistent poll winner throughout the 1940s. He participated in Metronome magazine’s All-Star record sessions alongside Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Lennie Tristano. However, it was his poor luck that the clarinet suffered a steep decline in public popularity after the Swing Era; it prevented him from finding larger, more appreciative audiences. Although he was a prodigy who was band-hopping among Swing Era giants (Gene Krupa, Charlie Barnet, Tommy Dorsey) as a teen, DeFranco was one of the only clarinetists who proved willing and able to master the new idiom of the day, bebop. In the 1950s, DeFranco led his own bands, writing most of the arrangements himself. He also recorded frequently in the 1950s (among his sidemen were Art Blakey, Kenny Drew, and Sonny Clark) and participated in some of Norman Granz‘s Verve jam sessions. In the early 1960s, DeFranco led a quartet that included accordionist Tommy Gumina, and he recorded an album with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers on which he played bass clarinet. However, by the late 1960s, as jazz went into a semi-permanent eclipse, DeFranco could only stay in music by leading a Glenn Miller ghost band. By the 1980s, jazz had experienced an upsurge, and DeFranco teamed with vibraphonist Terry Gibbs and had his own public radio show, and he was playing wonderfully into his late 80s. Here’s an example of DeFranco’s chops, from a 1949 Metronome All-Star session, alongside Parker, Gillespie, Fats Navarro, Miles Davis,  J.J. Johnson and Shelley Manne, performing a tune/ credited to Davis, “Overtime,” here:

Ruby Braff and Ellis Larkins record their first duet album, simply titled Duets, in 1955. Listen to this hauntingly beautiful performance of the gospel song, “A City Called Heaven,” here:

Trumpeter Henry “Red” Allen records “You Might Get Better, But You’ll Never Get Rich,” 1930.