I love clarinetist Buddy DeFranco's marvelous sense of purpose. Throughout his storied career dating back to the early '40s, Buddy has always treated jazz as a cocktail—vigorously shaking perfectionism and playfulness, and pouring forth a bop-infused sound that enraptures and dazzles. On Sunday, Buddy turns 90, so I thought I'd celebrate a little early.
One of my favorite albums by Buddy (and there are so many) is The Buddy DeFranco Wailers (Norgran). Recorded in May 1956, the album features Harry "Sweets" Edison (tp), Buddy DeFranco (cl), Jimmy Rowles (p), Barney Kessel (g), Bob Stone (b) and Bobby White (d).
What makes this album special is its ferocity and musicianship. Buddy's cool blue tones are contrasted by the lyrical heat of Sweets [pictured above], the locomotive timekeeping of Rowles and the lyrical linesman Kessel. In each case, no matter who steps up, Buddy alters his playing style slightly to catch the spirit of the comer or goer.
Dig how Buddy plays off of Kessel after the guitarist finishes his solo on Cheek to Cheek, using a guitar-picking attack on the clarinet to mime and salute what has just taken place. Or the rip-roaring Moonlight on the Ganges, I Won't Dance and Perfidia, with Sweets and Buddy tearing around in unison.
There are ballads—Angel Eyes and How Long Has This Been Going On—with Buddy as mournful as can be, aided by Rowles playing celeste on the latter track.
This album is a soloist's playground, and each artist here is in it for the daredevil risks and runs required on such a high-stakes date. Which is why Buddy remains exciting and important. He upped the ante on every date and never made a single record with junk players. They wouldn't have lasted a Camden minute.
Happy birthday, Buddy! JazzWax readers love you.
JazzWax note: To read my nine separate conversations with Buddy DeFranco, look in the right-hand column under "JazzWax Interviews." You'll find the links alphabetized by first name.
JazzWax tracks: The Buddy DeFranco Wailers seems to be out of stock on CD at Amazon but fortunately it's available as a download here.
JazzWax clip: Here's Buddy on I Won't Dance. Dig the clarity and roundness of his tone as well as how his lines twist and turn with undulating grace...