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Buddy DeFranco, Clarinet Innovator, Dies at 91

In his 70-year career, he brought his instrument into the bebop era and beyond

Buddy DeFranco, New York City, 1947
Buddy DeFranco (l.) and Tommy Gumina
Buddy DeFranco
Buddy DeFranco

Buddy DeFranco, who brought the clarinet into the bebop era and maintained a seven-decade career, died Dec. 24 in Panama City, Fla., according to a notice on his website. The cause was not reported. DeFranco was 91.

In the years following the dominance of swing clarinetists such as Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, DeFranco adapted the instrument to the new type of jazz being introduced by the likes of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, both of whom were collaborators of his. In an interview posted on the website for the National Endowment for the Arts, DeFranco, who was named an NEA Jazz Master in 2006, said, “When I heard Charlie Parker, I knew that was gonna be the new way to play jazz. And it was right. … It was much more difficult to play as far as fingering and articulation. In fact, even to this day, I can’t explain the articulation of bebop, even though I do it. You know, because it’s a question of the melding between your brain, your tonguing, your phrasing, your breathing and your fingering. It has to work all together. And there’s no way to describe it.”

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