May 2005

Fradley Garner By

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This obituary column has run for nearly two years in Jersey Jazz, journal of the New Jersey Jazz Society. Thanks to Michael Ricci's invitation, and with my JJ editor Paul White's blessings, I am pleased to share it with AAJ readers. Concerning my sources: I subscribe to The New York Times news alert service, which e-mails me when key words like "jazz, "swing, "big band "vocalist turn up in a Times obituary. For some reason, the service never let me know when Artie Shaw "moved up," but my oldest New Jersey pal, Don Robertson, did. Don is editor emeritus of Jersey Jazz. NJJS President Joe Lang, a prolific jazz writer, is a dependable lookout, too. So is Jerry Gordon, a NJJS member in Troy, NY, who also posts these jazz obits on his web site, A Place for Jazz. Visit and enjoy their piano ragtime welcome. Thanks to these friends and other good scouts out there, I hope to keep the column coming your way for some time to come.

Bill Potts, Arlington, VA, Apr. 3, 1928-Plantation, FL, Feb. 16, 2005.

A pianist and composer whose best-known work was his 1959 score of "The Jazz Soul of Porgy and Bess for big band, Potts died in hospital of cardiac arrest. He was 76. A tall and commanding figure with a white goatee, Potts was pictured by his fellow-composer Andre Previn as a "man of Dickensian proportions with added touches of Peter Ustinov and Captain Ahab.

William Orie Potts scored his swinging version of the Gershwin folk opera at age 30 for a band featuring Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Bob Brookmeyer, Art Farmer, Sweets Edison, Charlie Shavers, Bill Evans, and other big names of the era, for a United Artists release. He stepped up the tempo of traditionally slow ballads such as "Summertime and left out the vocal in an arrangement described as "bold, brassy and swinging. Down Beat magazine gave the record the maximum five stars. The work is available on The Jazz Soul of Porgy and Bess (Blue Note, 1959).

Vale Robert Parker, Sydney, Australia, Dec. 24, 1936-Dec. 30, 2004.

Parker, 68, an Australian sound engineer who settled in London, won awards for his recorded sound restorations. Parker's Jazz Classics in Digital Stereo series was broadcast on BBC Radio 2. He started adding reverberation and enhanced stereo effects to vintage mono recordings using a controversial analog machine called the Packman Audio Noise Suppressor. The "doctored recordings were later issued on the BBC label, at first on LP and then on cassette and CD. Parker bought a warehouse in Devon and, now with digital equipment, produced and soldby mail-order his re-mastered CDs of a wider range of popular music.

Larry Bunker, Long Beach, CA, Nov. 4, 1928-Los Angeles, CA, Mar. 8, 2005.

A drummer and symphony percussionist who played for years with Peggy Lee's band and toured with the units of Bill Evans and Judy Garland, Larry Bunker died at 76 from the complications of a stroke. Bunker was a "crossover percussionist, in demand for Los Angeles Philharmonic assignments. He was adept on timpani and vibraphone, among other percussion instruments, and in later life listened mainly to classical music.

He also enjoyed a career in TV and on movie soundtracks, working with Henry Mancini, Alfred Newman, Johnny Mandel and John Williams. His first film was Stalag 17 in 1953 and his last was The Incredibles in 2004. According to his family, Bunker performed at more than 30 Academy Awards ceremonies, including the 77th in February.

Bunker started playing in high school as a self-taught pianist, accordionist and drummer. After playing for three years in the Army, he worked with the bassist Howard Rumsey at the Lighthouse Café in Hermosa Beach in the 1950s, and with Stan Getz and the saxophonists Art Pepper and Gerry Mulligan. He joined the trio of pianist Bill Evans in 1964. In an interview with Down Beat magazine that year, Evans called Bunker a "superlative drummer who "just does the right thing because he's listening.

Among many jazz CDs, the drummer can be heard with Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker (PJ), Bill Evans (Verve, Riverside), Red Norvo (BB), Billie Holiday (Verve), Quincy Jones (Mob. Fid.).

Bobby Short, Danville, IL, Sept. 15, 1924-New York, NY, Mar. 20, 2005.

A self-accompanied vocalist whom the New Yorker magazine called "one of the last examples (and indubitably the best) of the supper club singer or 'troubador', Bobby Short died of leukemia in New York Presbyterian Hospital. He was 80.

"Short kept The Great American Song Book alive and well attended even into a day of Rap and Rock, Don Ingle said in an e-mail to Dixieland enthusiasts, adding that Short was "noted for his piano and vocals attention to Gershwin, Porter, Arlen, Carmichael, Berlin and the other great songsmiths.

Robert Waltrip Short was a child prodigy, one of a family of 10 Depression-era children, who basically taught himself to play piano and sing, At age 10, he entertained at a party in Chicago. Two years later, he was doing one-night stands at Chicago hotels, and then in New York. He returned to his native Danville in 1938 to continue his grade school education, graduating from high school while still performing in clubs.

Short was featured at the Blue Angel in New York, and at west coast clubs. In the 1950s and '60s he worked the Paris circuit. But the elegant baritone's longest residency began in 1968 at the Café Carlyle on Manhattan's Upper East Side, where for half the year he continued to work into 2005, the club's 50th anniversary. He had homes in Manhattan and Southern France "Over the years, wrote The New York Times, the performer "transcended the role of cabaret entertainer to become a ... symbol of civilized Manhattan culture. A visit to the Carlyle became a "must stop for the characters in Woody Allen's New York films. Short's CDs include the Benny Carter Songbook on the MusicMasters label and an album with Marian McPartland on Jazz Alliance.

Ted Brown, an unpredictable disk jockey from the golden era of WNEW-AM radio in New York and host of WNBC's "Monitor in the early 1970s, died March 20 in Manhattan. His age was believed to be about 80. He was a contemporary of William B. Williams and, later, of Jonathan Schwartz. On the air, Brown was famous for stunts. One April Fool's Day, he substituted the Rolling Stones for Sinatra records. To dramatize the dangers of alcohol, he would get drunk on the air. "We enjoyed disc jockey Ted Brown," said NJJS member George Gaelwood. "Once on July 4th, he said he was going to drink a fifth on the 4th, and he did — on the air!"

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