Sylvie Mas and Fabrice Zammarchi, the authors of Buddy's wonderful biography, offer their fond memories of DeFranco in honor of his passing:
A Strong Italian-American Gifted Jazz Clarinetist
For miles and miles around his elders Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and Barney Bigard, suddenly listening to Buddy DeFranco was a true shock, a revolution! His records of the 50’s began to be re-released in France in the 70’s and his clarinet playing with a swing-bop phrasing was going beyond comprehension for an ordinary performer. When he held a standard like I’ll Remember April on a very fast tempo he flew along ten choruses with abundance of ideas defying the imagination. His phrasing denoted a crazy technical risk-taking because clarinet, in its mechanism and tonal properties, is particularly recalcitrant to domestication. "I need flexibility" liked to say Buddy. After the very first astonishment facing this music stream, one can notice how all is perfection on rhythmic, harmonic and melodic point of view. Moreover there is a strong logic in his choruses that makes the moment just a highlight. For example his performance with big band on his own arrangement in three tempi of Yesterdays is a masterpiece. The unique brio of his playing in his youth then grew rich from the 70’s with a new romanticism when he played ballads. Decades of musical skill arise in his blue sound which reflects mixed influences, passion, humanity and pride. Dealing with such an artist along the last 25 years was an essential gift in my life.
-- Fabrice Zammarchi
Memory works with pictures and flashes, words coming soon after. 1991: we are inside Notre-Dame de Paris with Buddy and his charming wife Joyce. He likes the place and he is feeling the materials of the cathedral with his muscular hand, appreciating the wooden handcraft of the seats, glancing to centuries of European culture. Words, one after one flow out to tell his roots, aunts Grace and Lucy who raised him, his blind father playing mandolin. And soon after with a generous smile, some light pride throwing down the challenge: "they were strong Italian rooted; they lived more than 90 years, as I will". When back home in the evening, we have dinner with a wonderful osso bucco that Fabrice - also Italian rooted – prepared and yes: Buddy is a strong Italian who likes to eat and laugh and spend time with friends. He tells us about his Saltimbocca, a piece of music written for him by Nelson Riddle that he played only once with Stan Kenton Neophonic Orchestra (and wasn’t released at that time); and so forth he slowly unveils some parts of his life as a musician. Then after, in his steel blue eyes we begin to catch a glimpse of the man as a legendary jazz musician: his Italian part is eating with greediness, yet his American part is telling The Story of The Golden Age of Jazz. Now stories flow about his partners, Charlie Parker at the front and, mixing together the music and the food, Buddy tells us how Bird liked to cook rabbits.
We shared lots of meals and high moments of complicity about the music of course, but also about many various subjects. Buddy was an engineer and highly interested in inventions, for example those of Nikola Tesla among others, and he was unstoppable! Buddy DeFranco built his own philosophy and casted an interrogative glance to this new millennium, more often disconcerted, particularly with the music because he was very demanding. He said: "we are not able to forget what we’ve learned" and the sentence actually has profound meanings for everyone who knows what it is to mark out his own way in life. Aphorisms were his manner to pass on important thoughts with a big smile and a special sharpen light in eyes: going around with Buddy was an unfolding to the inner meaning of music – of life. Our last meeting was in 2010 in Panama City: three hours practicing clarinet with his biographer and – every clarinet player will recognize himself – speak hours about reeds and mouthpieces; then share a beer and have dinner, simply pleased to be all together with his family. We were lucky and happy to be counted among his friends: Jazz Clarinet Master was a Buddy, a fellow.
-- Sylvie Mas