World famous jazz clarinetist Buddy DeFranco, 91, passed away Wednesday evening December 24th at a local hospital in Panama City, FL. He was born Bonifacio Ferdinando Leonardo DeFranco on February 17, 1923 in Camden, NJ. DeFranco was a stellar performer on the international stage for 75 years. A leader of the bebop movement in jazz, he was dubbed the “Charlie Parker of the Clarinet.”
His remarkable career began during his early teens in Philadelphia, and he went on to play with the legendary jazz bands of Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie, Gene Krupa, Charlie Barnett and a host of others. He was featured in solo recordings with a “Who’s Who” of music greats including Frank Sinatra, Art Tatum, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Billie Holliday, Oscar Peterson and George Shearing. For 8 years DeFranco travelled around the world conducting The Glenn Miller Orchestra. He received virtually every jazz award and accolade ever given; he was a Grammy nominee and winner of 20 Downbeat Magazine Awards, nine Metronome Magazine Awards, and 16 Playboy All-Stars Awards as the number one jazz clarinetist in the world. In 2006 DeFranco was named National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master and later received the title “Living Jazz Legend” at The Kennedy Center.
Famed composer/arranger Nelson Riddle wrote the epic musical “Cross Country Suite” for his esteemed friend Buddy. It was introduced by Nat King Cole when DeFranco premiered the work at the Hollywood Bowl. DeFranco performed in leading venues across the world: Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, the London Palladium, the Concertgebouw, Budokan and concert halls of the US, Canada, Europe and Asia.
The University of Montana in Missoula hosts the annual “Buddy DeFranco Jazz Festival” each Spring. International jazz greats make guest appearances with the University Jazz Ensemble, where DeFranco had headlined the past 15 years. He is survived by his loving wife, Joyce and son Chad. They request that in lieu of flowers, contributions in his memory be made to the Buddy DeFranco Jazz Festival University of Montana Foundation, Missoula, MT 59807.
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