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A Life in the Golden Age of Jazz: A Biography of Buddy DeFranco by Fabrice Zammarchi & Sylvie Mas

Great jazz musicians have always attracted avid fans who are sometimes moved to going beyond forming fan clubs. Some have backed the idol’s band and/or subsidized recordings through their own independent labels; others have written biographies. Professional French clarinetist Fabrice Zammarchi, abetted by his wife Sylvie Mas, has chosen the latter method to express his admiration for Buddy DeFranco. And Malcolm Harris, head of Parkside Publications and another ardent DeFranco fan, gave the book a production he feels jazz musicians deserve but rarely receive.

Profusely illustrated with pictures (including an abundance of never-before published images and end papers consisting of color reproductions of DeFranco’s album covers), the coffee-table book takes us from Buddy’s humble, hard-times beginnings in Philadelphia, through his emergence in the big bands of the swing era and his early recognition that Charlie Parker was a genius whose music was the pathway to the future. What DeFranco couldn’t foresee was that the advent of bebop would coincide with the decline of his chosen instrument, the clarinet. Nevertheless, his singular excellence triumphed and led to a long, illustrious, varied and still-happening career.

DeFranco’s clear, intelligent voice is heard throughout, talking directly about the music and the music business: his ups and downs with the crusty Tommy Dorsey; the fun he had with Charlie Barnet’s band; his admiration for Count Basie; his special regard for Parker, Gillespie and Art Tatum; his own failed big band; the more successful quartet he led featuring Sonny Clark, Gene Wright and Art Blakey.

The main shortcoming in this labor of love lies in the editing. The writers could have avoided having DeFranco reiterate ideas and opinions that he had already made clear in other parts of the book. Still, this book is a collector’s item and should appeal to aficionados and musicians alike.

Originally Published