Buddy DeFranco Day

February 17, 1923 – December 24, 2014

A tribute to one of the all-time great jazz clarinetists

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Clarinetist Boniface Ferdinand Leonard “Buddy” DeFranco was born on February 17, 1923 in Camden, New Jersey.

DeFranco began playing the clarinet when he was nine, developing quickly and winning a national swing contest sponsored by Tommy Dorsey five years later.

He began his career playing with the Charlie Barnet Orchestra in 1943, gained some attention for his work with Tommy Dorsey (1944-47), taking a well-known solo on TD’s recording of “Opus #1,” and recording with the Metronome All-Stars in (1946, 1947 and 1949) and Boyd Raeburn.

The clarinet was so closely associated with Benny Goodman that it became a minor instrument in more modern jazz despite DeFranco’s mastery of bebop; he never became as famous to the general public as Goodman or Artie Shaw.

DeFranco, who began leading his own record dates in 1949 and worked with the Count Basie Septet in 1950, was the leading clarinetist after the swing era at least until the rise of Eddie Daniels in the 1980s and, even then, few could top him.

A perennial poll winner who led many sessions for Verve in the 1950s, DeFranco also recorded with Lionel Hampton, Oscar Peterson and Art Tatum, and had a quintet with accordionist Tommy Gumina during 1960-64.

Due to lack of work in the mid-1960s, DeFranco became the leader of the Glenn Miller Orchestra for several years which gave him some financial security but was unsatisfying musically.

By 1974 he was back on his own and he kept busy during his final 40 years, leading many small-group dates and often teaming up with vibraphonist Terry Gibbs, particularly during the 1980s and ‘90s.

Buddy DeFranco is featured at a 1991 concert in Japan jamming an uptempo blues with an all-star sextet that includes Terry Gibbs.

Personnel:

Buddy DeFranco, clarinet
Terry Gibbs, vibes
Herb Ellis, guitar
Larry Novak, piano
Milt Hinton, bass
Butch Miles, drums

– Scott Yanow

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