Buddy DeFranco: The Bebop Years 1949-56

Swing eclipses the bop here but whatever the style DeFranco demonstrates his intention to articulate with Birdlike fluency on the clarinet


This generous compilation comprises 39 songs performed by master clarinettist Buddy DeFranco (1923-2014) in a variety of settings.

Among other things, these sessions reveal that in contrast to the efforts of Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, who failed to convincingly adapt the clarinet to the intricacies and complexities of bebop, DeFranco swiftly realised that it could be played on an instrument then out of favour in large orchestras. He told the New Yorker’s jazz critic Whitney Balliett: “I first heard Parker in the mid forties. It was uptown at some club. He had just come in from upstate. He borrowed a horn and sat in. I was completely turned around. I couldn’t sleep for two days. I was determined to articulate like that on the clarinet.”

DeFranco later declared that his musical idols were Bird and Tatum. Of Count Basie, he recalled: ”I never heard anyone play so much by doing so little. I became more relaxed, more cognizant of a time feeling.”

In the seven-year period covered by this anthology, Buddy fronted his own large band, but also recorded with swing-era and post-swing luminaries: Count Basie, Tatum, Lionel Hampton and Oscar Peterson. He also fronted several editions of his own quartets which included pianists Kenny Drew and Sonny Clark, guitarist Herb Ellis, trumpeter “Sweets” Edison, guitarist Jimmy Raney and drummers Art Taylor and Art Blakey. All appear on this slightly mis-titled anthology on which “swing” cadences outnumber bop licks, but no matter. Whatever the genre, DeFranco plays with fast, needle-sharp intonation or rhapsodic gentleness.

Practically every track verifies this assertion. For example, on CD1 listen to the four sessions with the Count Basie Octet (1950), his own quartet performances of Lady Be Good and Pennywhistle Blues (1952), Autumn In New York (1953) and the 1953 “live” versions of Somebody Loves Me and The Things We Did Last Summer (with Oscar Peterson, Kenny Drew, Eugene Wright and Art Blakey).

Things get even better on the 1950s sessions on CD2 – culminating in an inspired pairing with Art Tatum, with Art and Buddy joyfully Makin’ Whoopee. Other gems include Blues In The Closet, and On The Sunny Side Of The Street (with Lionel Hampton) and I Can’t Get Started, featuring Sonny Clark and Tal Farlow (1954). 

DeFranco would continue recording with, among others, Lennie Tristano, Terry Gibbs and Dave McKenna until 2010, but also found time and energy to lead the Glenn Miller Orchestra in the 1960s. “The Bebop Years” revisited here were a fruitful but comparatively short period in an extraordinary career. A pedestrian and quotation-laden essay by Paul Watts adds little to an audible appreciation of the set.

CD1: Bud’s Invention; Extrovert; Neal’s Deal; The Golden Bullet; These Foolish Things; Tootie; Dancing On The Ceiling; Body And Soul; Rumpus Room; Make Believe; Oh, Lady Be Good; Buddy’s Blues; Pennywhistle Blues; Carioca; I Got It Bad; Summertime; Autumn In New York; Show Eyes; When Your Lover Has Gone; Somebody Loves Me; The Things We Did Last Summer; Cable Car (71.17)
CD2: Monogram; Blues In The Closet; On The Sunny Side Of The Street; You Go To My Head; Sonny’s Idea; Laura; Minor Incident; Moe; Fascinating Rhythm; Easy To Love; But Beautiful; I Can’t Get Started; A Foggy Day; Makin’ Whoopee; Perfidia; I Won’t Dance (71.10)

DeFranco (cl) on all tracks with personnel including Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, Oscar Peterson, Louis Bellson, Art Blakey, Ray Brown, Herb Ellis, Harry Edison, Barney Kessel and Buddy Rich.
Acrobat Music ADDCD 3429