Legendary jazz clarinetist Buddy DeFranco dies on Christmas Eve aged 91

He pioneered the bebop style for the notoriously difficult instrument

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The Independent Online

The most acclaimed jazz clarinet player of his generation Buddy DeFranco - who worked with Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday - has died aged 91.

He died at a hospital in Florida on Christmas Eve, his family confirmed in a statement.

His extraordinary musical career lasted more than 70 years. He began playing professionally in the 1930s and went on to become known as the “Charlie Parker of clarinet.”

Renowned for being the first clarinetist to play bebop - a lightning fast style of jazz which he pioneered in the 1940s — for decades he has topped polls of ‘best jazz artists’ and won countless accolades. 

A member of the American Jazz Hall of Fame, he won Playboy Jazz All-Star award for top jazz clarinetist in the world 16 times.

"We have received condolences from around the world," DeFranco's wife told AP, adding that her husband had been in declining health for some years.

"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,” leading jazz clarinetist Ken Peplowski told the BBC.

"He was also unfailingly kind and supportive to every other clarinetist who came after him.”

Born in New Jersey but raised in Philadelphia, DeFranco was originally named Boniface Ferdinand Leonardo De Franco.

He took up the mandolin at five and learned to play the clarinet aged 9.

DeFranco was also band leader of the Glenn Miller Orchestra from 1966 to 1974 as well as releasing dozens of albums and collaborating with musical luminaries from Sinatra and Holiday to Ella Fitzgerald and Tony Bennett.