Jazz Great Buddy DeFranco Dies At Age 91

Renowned jazz clarinetist Buddy DeFranco – who collaborated with Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday and other top singers and musicians of his era – has died at the age of 91, his family said Friday.

DeFranco’s family told The Associated Press that the famed musician died Wednesday evening at a Panama City hospital.

Photo: Jennifer Szymaszek/AP, file
Sharing a laugh with Freddie Hubbard during the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Awards Concert in New York.

DeFranco’s wife, Joyce, said he had been in declining health in recent years. The couple lived in Panama City.

DeFranco, a member of the American Jazz Hall of Fame, performed at venues around the world for 75 years and recorded with musicians including Sinatra, Holliday, Art Tatum, Ella Fitzgerald and Tony Bennett. He conducted the Glenn Miller Orchestra for eight years from 1966 to 1974.

“Buddy DeFranco almost single-handedly was the clarinetist who moved the harmonic and rhythmic language forward from where Benny Goodman left off into the much more adventurous territory of bebop and beyond, while never forgetting his roots in swing music. He was also unfailingly kind and supportive to every other clarinetist who came after him,” said leading jazz clarinetist Ken Peplowski.

DeFranco was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master and later named a Living Jazz Legend in a Kennedy Center ceremony.

DeFranco was recognized 16 times with the Playboy All-Star award for top jazz clarinetist in the world.

“We have received condolences from around the world,” said Joyce DeFranco. She said her husband’s influence on music will last long beyond his lifetime.

DeFranco began his career as a teenager in Philadelphia and went on to play with legendary bands including Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie, Gene Krupa and Charlie Barnett.

Composer Nelson Riddle wrote the musical “Cross Country Suite” in 1958 for DeFranco, and Nat King Cole introduced DeFranco when he premiered the work at the Hollywood Bowl.

The Buddy DeFranco Jazz Festival is held each spring at The University of Montana in Missoula, Montana. DeFranco’s family asked Friday that contributions in his memory be given to the festival.

Funeral plans had not been announced late Friday.

DeFranco is survived by his wife and his son Chad DeFranco.