Jazz Legend Passes: Buddy DeFranco Dies At 91

Buddy DeFranco, a legend when it comes to the jazz clarinet, passed away on Wednesday, December 24, at 91-years-old at a Panama City hospital. No cause of death was given, though his wife, Joyce, said his health had been declining over the last few years. His death was announced on his website by his family.

DeFranco was a musician for more than 70 years, performing at venues all over the world. He began playing the clarinet at the age of nine and at 14, won a national Tommy Dorsey Swing contest. In 1939, still in his teen years, he took his show on the road to end up performing world wide.

He was a pioneer with his instrument, the clarinet, helping to bring it to the forefront of jazz music, even through the transition from swing to bebop.

NY Daily Post reports that Ken Peplowski, leading jazz clarinetist, remembers Buddy DeFranco fondly.

“Buddy DeFranco almost single-handedly was the clarinetist who moved the harmonic and rhythmic language forward from where Benny Goodman left off into the much more adventurous territory of bebop and beyond, while never forgetting his roots in swing music.

“He was also unfailingly kind and supportive to every other clarinetist who came after him.”

DeFranco was a member of the American Jazz Hall of Fame and was named National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Master, the nations highest honor for jazz musicians.. He was later awarded the title of Living Jazz Legend in a Kennedy Center ceremony.

CBS News notes that his achievements does not end there.

“DeFranco was recognized 16 times with the Playboy All-Star award for top jazz clarinetist in the world.”

Buddy worked with a number of big name artists including Frank Sinatra, Art Tatum, Ella Fitzgerald, and, a personal favorite of Buddy, Billie Holliday. From 1966-1974, DeFranco was the conductor for the Glenn Miller Orchestra.

According to Fox News, in lieu of flowers, DeFranco’s family asks that a contribution be made in his name to the Buddy DeFranco Jazz Festival. It is held every spring at University of Montana in Missoula.

This is the second death within the music world with Dawn Sears recently passing. Television has also suffered a loss with the recent passing of the legend Larry Auerbach.

Buddy is survived by his wife Joyce, and his son, Chad DeFranco. Our condolences go out to the friends and family of the jazz legend Buddy DeFranco.

[Image Via William Rice/Chicago Tribune]