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Artist Profiles

Legends of the Clarinet: Buddy DeFranco & Tony Scott

By Published: October 28, 2003
DeFranco's resume, as detailed in his just published biography, A Life in the Golden Age of Jazz: A Biography of Buddy DeFranco by Fabrice Zammarchi & Sylvie Mas (Parkside Publications), although not as eclectic as Scott's, is no less impressive. A 20-time Downbeat poll winner, Buddy first gained national attention on the radio by winning the Tommy Dorsey Swing Contest at the age of 14. Throughout the ‘40s he was a featured soloist with several of the era's most popular big bands, including those of Gene Krupa, Charlie Barnet, Boyd Raeburn and Tommy Dorsey. When the popularity of dance orchestras declined he spent a year as a member of Count Basie's septet and octet and in 1954 he toured Europe with Billie Holiday. A frequent member of the Metronome All Stars and Jazz at the Philharmonic, DeFranco also performed and recorded with Art Tatum, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Nat King Cole, Oscar Peterson, Lennie Tristano, Louie Bellson and many others.

As a leader the clarinetist headed several important groups of his own. His early Capitol recording of George Russell's “Bird in Igor's Yard” (with altoist Lee Konitz) is often issued as part of the Birth of the Cool. The quartet he led with Art Blakey, Kenny Drew and Eugene Wright was widely hailed as the most hard-swinging clarinet group of its day and his ensemble with accordionist Tommy Gumina is considered one of the earliest examples of polytonal jazz. Following years of relative obscurity as a Hollywood studio player and nominal leader of the Glenn Miller "ghost band", he returned to the jazz scene (often performing with the late guitarist Tal Farlow or vibraphonist Terry Gibbs) and has remained active ever since. DeFranco is thrilled about the Iridium gig. "I think it's a great idea," he says from his summer home in Montana. "Of course Tony and I haven't worked together for centuries, but it's a good idea because it shines the spotlight on the idea of jazz clarinet." He confesses that he's not as familiar as he'd like to be with all of the guest clarinetists because he's been so busy. "A couple of them I really like," he notes. "Like Ronnie Odrich. I've known him for years. I taught him when he was young...we've played together many times. Kenny Davern I love. We just worked together a short while ago in Clearwater, Florida. He's one of my favorites."

The other three guest stars can be said to lean more towards the Scott side of the spectrum. Perry Robinson is also a "traveler" and shares his elder's mystical approach to music. Marty Erhlich, best known as an avant gardist, cites Eric Dolphy, John Carter and Anthony Braxton to be his main models on clarinet, but remembers being inspired by Music for Zen Meditation at a young age. Don Byron, arguably the most visible clarinetist on the jazz scene today, notes that Scott is "kind of the guy that I modeled certain things about my relationship to music after. He's done a lot of different things, which is part of why I know I can do a lot of different things on this instrument. People look at the range of records that I've made and say 'What the hell is that?' But, that's what he did."

Scott will be celebrating his 82nd birthday on opening night and it is likely to be an exhilarating event filled with accounts of his long career. DeFranco, who turned 80 in February, is sure to have his share of tales of his own. But the real story will be heard on the bandstand, where an exciting extension of the legend of the clarinet is guaranteed.

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