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In Memoriam: Tributes to 2020’s Departed Jazz Greats

Members of the jazz community who passed in 2020 are remembered by their colleagues, protégés, and admirers

In Memoriam 2020

In our March 2021 issue, we present our annual In Memoriam section, commemorating more than 20 of the 80-plus jazz notables whom we lost in the past year. Short introductions to all those tributes have been gathered on the page below. Click on the links to read the full tributes.


Lee Konitz Newport 2004

LEE KONITZ by Dan Tepfer

As someone who likes to think of himself as rational, I can’t bring myself to believe in fate, yet Lee and I seemed destined to meet. Although piano’s been my instrument since I was a child, I had a sax in my teens, and I sound strangely like Lee on home recordings from the time even though I’d hardly listened to him. After I moved to New York in 2006, I put on my mentor Martial Solal’s duo record with Lee one day, Star Eyes, and, moved by a conviction I’ve seldom had before or since—that if I got to play with Lee, I would know what to do—I asked Martial if he would introduce us. Martial gave me his blessing, I went to Lee’s apartment on the Upper West Side, we hit it off immediately on both a personal and musical level, and thus began 14 years of close friendship and collaboration. Read more.

Gary Peacock 2013

GARY PEACOCK by Jack DeJohnette

I heard Gary at first on records, with Tony Williams and Albert Ayler and a few other people. Then he moved to Japan, and I played with him there. We made one recording together called Have You Heard? with Bennie Maupin and Hideo Ichikawa [Milestone, 1970]. So before we got together with Keith [Jarrett], I’d already been aware of Gary for quite a while. And I was impressed by his sound, his solos, and his feel. Read more.

Annie Ross

ANNIE ROSS by Sara Gazarek

I think I speak for many of us when I say that this past year has felt like a tumultuous and far-reaching sea of loss and grief. Political and social unrest aside (and not even taking into account the familial and financial losses we’ve all endured), we’ve said goodbye to more living legends than my heart can handle—and we’ve witnessed the closing of doors to more venues than I care to count. And yet … here we are. Left to make sense of the broken pieces of our ship, and to learn from the torrential storm that we have somehow endured. Months after it was announced that we’d lost the great vocalist/actress/composer Annie Ross, I continue to find myself learning from the ways in which she embodied this concept—how she continued to rebuild the proverbial ship and persevere in the face of the storm. Read more.

Jeff Clayton

JEFF CLAYTON by Terell Stafford

I met Jeff over 20 years ago because [his brother] John had heard me perform at the IAJE conference. He asked me to join the faculty in Vail, [Colorado,] for the Vail Jazz Workshop. I joined, and the first faculty concert we had was, I think, the very first day. Jeff and I played together, and our sounds connected instantly. That was the beginning of a great relationship. Read more.

Stanley Cowell

STANLEY COWELL by Charles Tolliver

Stanley Cowell was not my biological brother, but everything else about us would be the same if he were. I guess one could say that with the two of us it was a magical meeting. I think we were two guys who were just put on this earth to do what we did together.
Read more.

Bucky Pizzarelli


I was trying to think of how many times I played with Bucky Pizzarelli over the years and a very conservative estimate would have to be at least a thousand. Did I ever hear him have an off night? Not a chance. Bucky was of the old school of musicians that always gave 100%, be it Carnegie Hall, a record date, or some wealthy fan’s kid’s bar mitzvah. And believe me, that was not an atypical week for him. Read more.

Claudio Roditi and Paquito D'Rivera

CLAUDIO RODITI by Paquito D’Rivera

My first gig when I settled in New York City in October 1980 was with the quintet of the multifaceted David Amram, whom I had met in 1977, when he suddenly appeared in the Havana bay aboard the ship Daphne, as part of a Caribbean jazz cruise with Stan Getz, Earl “Fatha” Hines, and Dizzy Gillespie. At the time Amram had in his New York band Victor Venegas on bass, Steve Berrios on drums, and a quaint Peruvian/Puerto Rican percussionist (Peruviorican, he called himself) named Ray Mantilla, who was the first person I heard speaking in perfect “Spanglish,” half-Spanish-half-English with tremendous rhythm. Read more.

Frank Kimbrough

FRANK KIMBROUGH by Scott Robinson

I knew Frank before there was a Maria Schneider Orchestra. Before either of us moved to New York. Ron Horton just reminded me that I told him about Frank, and suggested they get in touch, back when Ron and I lived in Boston (years later, the two of them became co-founders of the Jazz Composers Collective). So Frank and I go way back. Neither of us could remember exactly how we met—probably at some Washington, D.C. jam session—but it was sometime in 1979 or ’80. He always spoke fondly of our first gigs, at the Boar’s Head Inn somewhere in Virginia, where I would show up in my 1949 Plymouth loaded with instruments. Read more.

Tony Allen

TONY ALLEN by Tyshawn Sorey

I’m ashamed to say it, but I didn’t happen upon Tony’s work until fairly late in my career, maybe about 10 years ago. I mean, I was familiar with Fela Kuti’s name, so finally I got up the curiosity to check out the music, and of course I loved the music immediately. And the drumming specifically was what interested me. It reminded me very much of what was happening in America right around the same time. I didn’t know who the drummer was until I looked up [Fela’s band] Africa ’70 and did a little bit of research. Read more.

Lennie Niehaus and Clint Eastwood

LENNIE NIEHAUS by Clint Eastwood

A few weeks ago, I was [filming Cry Macho] in New Mexico, and I got the word that he had passed on. I hadn’t seen him in a few years. We go back to the Army at Fort Ord in ’51 and ’52. In the evenings, I used to bartend at a junior NCO club. He was in the army, but in the music department. He used to come in with a trio and play in this room with no stage or anything. They just played in the corner, kind of. That’s how I got to know him. I listened to him a lot, and I heard some of his records after we got out of the service and went our separate ways. Read more.

Viola Smith

VIOLA SMITH by Sherrie Maricle

When [drummer] Stanley Kay [Kaufman] founded the DIVA Jazz Orchestra in 1992, one of the reasons was that he remembered all these great women in the big bands during World War II, and knew from that era that women could play their asses off but didn’t see them getting those opportunities in the present. He mentioned the [International] Sweethearts of Rhythm, of course, but also Viola Smith, because she was a drummer. He knew her, and she started coming to hear DIVA and we became friends. Read more.

Bootsie Barnes


As a young up-and-coming musician growing up in Philadelphia, I struggled to find where I belonged. My mother raised me in the COGIC church, and although she loved my appreciation for “jazz,” I knew she’d prefer me accompanying the choir or playing for devotions every Sunday. My father also took me to church, but this service took place every Tuesday night at Ortlieb’s Jazz Haus. The pulpit was the bandstand, and the church folks had names like Deacon Durham, Mother Scott, Reverend Harper, Minister Roker, and everyone loved when Deacon Barnes showed up. Both churches served up soul-saving, foot-tapping, swinging music, and as a young man, I would dream about the two having service together. Read more.

Lyle Mays with Steve Rodby and Pat Metheny

LYLE MAYS by Paul Wertico

The first time I saw Lyle was at a place called Harry Hope’s in Cary, Illinois—the same town where I went to high school, actually. He was playing with Pat [Metheny], and it was just the quartet at that time. Lyle blew me away. He had this thing; his synthesizer playing, his piano playing, and everything was just incredible. I saw them again at the Bottom Line in New York and at the College of DuPage in Illinois. Read more.

Steve Grossman

STEVE GROSSMAN by Randy Brecker

Steve Grossman was, simply put, a child prodigy. I remember seeing a photo of him at summer band camp (or was it Tanglewood?) when he was 13 years old, standing with Peter Erskine, who was around 10; Steve’s face was so pure and angelic but at the same time had seriousness of intent, even at that age (as did Peter’s). Then just a couple years later, I started hearing about this 15-year-old alto saxophonist who was sitting in regularly with the Elvin Jones trio at Pookie’s Pub, a small bar across the street from the original Half Note on Hudson Street, where I was playing regularly with either the Clark Terry or Duke Pearson Big Band on weekends. Read more.

Onaje Allan Gumbs

ONAJE ALLAN GUMBS by Marcus Miller

To me, Onaje represented the heart and soul of the New York musician community during the late ’70s and early ’80s. Most of the writing you’ll find about him references his piano work with Kenny Burrell, the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis ensemble, Woody Shaw, and other jazz greats. But during that same period, Onaje was putting together some incredible arrangements for R&B artists like Phyllis Hyman, Norman Connors, and Will Downing. He was also playing as a sideman on recording dates for everyone from Steve Grossman to Ronald Shannon Jackson. This speaks to his musical range: Onaje represented the true NY musician of that era, multifaceted, multitalented, unafraid to cross genres. Back then, you did it all—and you were expected to do it all at a high level. That was the scene, and Onaje epitomized it. Read more.

Andy González

ANDY GONZÁLEZ by Luques Curtis

I was 13 when I met Andy. He came into Hartford to do a concert with a local band, and our band opened up for him, so that’s how I was able to see him. He talked to us afterward, and he also came by our house to have some dinner. I’m fortunate to have parents that are very social and welcoming. My mom loves to cook, and once the food was mentioned, Andy was like, “I’m there.” Read more.

John Pizzarelli and Freddy Cole

FREDDY COLE by John Pizzarelli

Freddy Cole’s beauty shone in the magic of his shows. They were free of fireworks and vocal gymnastics. To me, those wonderful evenings were full of wisdom, class, wit, and a full life well lived. He transitioned hypnotically from one song to another. Some of the tunes recognizable (anything from his famous brother’s catalogue), and some leaving you shaking your head saying, “How did he do that?” (Like a devastating “You and Me Against the World” or a swinging Bill Withers “Lovely Day.”) Each set was a master class. If you were lucky enough to hang with him, he’d give you wonderful song recommendations. He’d say, “Here’s a good one for you” and start singing for hours. Read more.

Charli Persip


It was August of 1981 and I had just moved from Wisconsin to Wayne, N.J. to go to school at (then) William Paterson College. My brother (trumpeter Eddie Allen) and I had been hearing about this band that played every week in the village of New York City called “The Superband.” After a short while we finally had a chance to hear them, and of course the leader of this band was Mr. Charli Persip. He was one of the first drummers that I heard in NYC that I had been listening to on records. Man, he had such command of the band and the music that it frightened and thrilled me at the same time. Read more.

Dave Mackay and Cathy Segal-Garcia

DAVE MACKAY by Lori Bell and Tamir Hendelman

How did Dave Mackay touch the piano? As a painter does, with a musical smile and empathy—in his own way. When we spoke of music, he pictured his fingers as little animals, conversing with the keyboard. His heart and soul and fingers were always communicating, quietly and with fire, with the piano. It was so tactile it made you smile. Read more.

Stanley Crouch

STANLEY CROUCH by Gary Giddins

Let us celebrate Stanley Crouch’s benevolent impact on jazz criticism. True, he incited viral gossip with his gusty eviscerations and performative tantrums, but all that pales beside the soaring cadences of his ardor. A daring listener, he thought and spoke of jazz ceaselessly, sometimes uproariously, and he wrote of it with reverence, metaphorical ebullience, and a bottomless well of knowledge. Read more.

Mark Winkler and Christopher Loudon


I’ll never forget the first time Chris Loudon called me to arrange an interview for JazzTimes. It was 2011, and I was not only releasing a new CD but also debuting my off-Broadway jazz musical Play It Cool, and Chris thought it would make a good story. I told him I was surprised that he wanted to interview me, and Chris said something like, “Why should you be surprised? You are at the level of …,” and then he dropped the name of one of the best writers of the Great American Songbook, that I’m too embarrassed to mention, and I remember thinking that it doesn’t get better than this. Read more.

McCoy Tyner 1967

McCOY TYNER by Ethan Iverson

In March 2020, McCoy Tyner passed at age 81, leaving behind a vast legacy of powerful piano on record. Naturally, many of the obituaries focused on his 1960-65 time with John Coltrane, a relationship that revolutionized jazz and brought forth some of its very greatest LPs, including Crescent and A Love Supreme. From Tyner’s long list of albums as a leader, 1967’s The Real McCoy with Joe Henderson, Ron Carter, and Elvin Jones generally gets the nod, although each period has its glories, from the tidy early-’60s trios through the epic live-’70s ensembles to the later solo recitals and all-star collaborations. Read more.

Wallace Roney 2011WALLACE RONEY by Ashley Kahn

Wallace Roney’s departure on the last day of March 2020 was a gut-punch in a year filled with far too many shocks. In the opening phase of the worldwide lockdown, his death was among the first to hit so directly, so close to home: a longtime member of the jazz family taken too early. Read more.


IN MEMORIAM 2020: A PLAYLIST by Michael J. WestJimmy Heath crop

It was a tragic year for jazz. So much so, in fact, that we couldn’t even fit all the greats who passed in 2020 into our annual In Memoriam feature. The 12 listed below are every bit as deserving of tribute as their comrades-in-arms. Read more.

Originally Published