Buddy DeFranco

Mr. Clarinet

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Over the years, Buddy DeFranco's admirers have often wondered why the clarinet's popularity as a jazz instrument declined considerably after World War II and the swing era -- why haven't more improvisers applied Charlie Parker's ideas to the clarinet, and why is the clarinet usually stereotyped as a swing/Dixieland/classic jazz instrument rather than a bebop, post-bop, avant-garde, soul-jazz, or fusion instrument? Perhaps it has something to do with the demands of the clarinet -- it is a tough instrument to master, and it becomes even more demanding when you're dealing with the complexities of bop. But those challenges never stopped DeFranco, who was 30 when he recorded Mr. Clarinet for Verve in 1953. By that time, DeFranco was being hailed as "the Charlie Parker of the Clarinet," and he lives up to that title on this excellent album (which boasts Kenny Drew on piano, Milt Hinton on bass, and Art Blakey on drums). Throughout Mr. Clarinet, DeFranco makes the clarinet sound perfectly logical as a bop instrument -- which was certainly an innovative thing to do back in the late '40s and early '50s. Whether he is playing original material or standards (including "But Not for Me" and "It Could Happen to You"), DeFranco refuses to let the clarinet's evolution end with Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Sidney Bechet, and Barney Bigard; he has no problem making the clarinet sound relevant to the bebop scene of 1953. (It should be noted that Shaw was also exploring bop on the clarinet in the early '50s, but regrettably, he decided to retire from music in 1955.) Most of the bop-oriented recordings that DeFranco provided in the '50s are well worth owning; Mr. Clarinet (which Verve reissued on CD in 2002) is no exception.

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