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Buddy DeFranco Biography is Big

Clarinetist Buddy DeFranco’s name doesn’t seem to carry as much weight as licorice-stick men Benny Goodman or Artie Shaw’s do. That’s understandable. DeFranco has had a long life in jazz (at 79, he’s still playing), and was a major player in swing and the burgeoning bebop of the 1940s, but he never led a big band of renown, thus letting Goodman and Shaw, who both helmed chart-topping ensembles, take top honors in the minds of music fans. DeFranco played with intense fervor and exceptional skill, however, and the new DeFranco biography by Fabrice Zammarchi and Sylvie Mas confirms that the clarinetist was just as important in giving the clarinet a voice in jazz as either of those other guys.

A Life in the Golden Age of Jazz is a thick, oversized book that, to be sure, tells the whole Buddy DeFranco story. Zammarchi and Mas met DeFranco on a European tour in 1991 and for the rest of that decade spent hours listening to the clarinetist tell stories. Stories about helping his blind father support a poor family by playing gigs at the age of 12. Stories about playing on the road as a teen with the likes of Gene Krupa and Tommy Dorsey. Stories about contributing to Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie’s bebop experiments in the 1940s. Lots of stories. Zammarchi and Mas also read plenty of jazz tomes and past DeFranco interviews and ended up with enough information to fill 368, 10- by 11-inch pages. That includes a discography and filmography, both quite informative. The book also includes loads of black and white photographs, which benefit from the oversize format. There are some great shots of DeFranco playing with Ella Fitzgerald and Louie Bellson, laughing with Norman Granz and hanging out with Oscar Peterson, a frequent collaborator.

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