Jazz clarinet great Buddy DeFranco dead at 91

Howard Reich

Accomplished clarinetist Buddy DeFranco dead at 91
Jazz clarinetist DeFranco brought instrument into rarified realm of bebop

Buddy DeFranco, one of the most virtuosic and musically accomplished clarinetists in the history of jazz, died Wednesday night in Panama City, Fla., said his wife of 44 years, Joyce DeFranco. He was 91.

DeFranco, more than anyone, brought the clarinet into the rarefied realm of bebop. As Charlie Parker did with alto saxophone, Dizzy Gillespie with trumpet and J.J. Johnson with trombone, DeFranco proved that his instrument could finesse the extraordinary technical hurdles of bebop music of the 1940s.

DeFranco also had copious performance and recording experience, working with Gene Krupa, Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie, Oscar Peterson, Billie Holiday and practically everyone else of his era. He won the country's most prestigious jazz honor, the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Fellowship, in 2006.

DeFranco last performed publicly at age 89, said his wife. A public celebration of his life will take place next year, she added.

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