Clarinetist Claude Luter towered over the landscape of the postwar Paris jazz scene. A longtime confederate of American bandleader Sidney Bechet, he championed the sound and spirit of traditional jazz into the 21st century. Born in Paris on July 23, 1923, Luter was the son of a professional musician and began his own career as a trumpeter before making the switch to clarinet. After discovering New Orleans jazz as a teen, he began playing private parties and clubs during the Nazi occupation, and post-liberation, emerged as a fixture at the Lorientais, one of the Latin Quarter's premier nightspots. In the wake of World War II the French embraced American jazz with new fervor, and the caves of Paris' St. Germain de Prés served as the music's epicenter; Luter's trio was the toast of the intellectual elite, playing to crowds that included Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre, and made their first recordings in 1946. Two years later, at the first Nice Jazz Festival, Luter befriended the great Louis Armstrong, and in the months to follow he recorded with a who's who of visiting American jazz musicians including Willie "The Lion" Smith, Rex Stewart, and Buck Clayton. His most significant association was his work with Bechet, like Armstrong a pioneer of the New Orleans jazz that shaped Luter's own playing; first teaming in 1949, Bechet and Luter continued collaborating until the saxophonist's May 1959 death, cutting a number of classic sessions and touring North Africa in 1951. In 1960 Luter paired with fellow clarinetist Barney Bigard before forming his own band, which he continued to lead for the remainder of his life. In 1964, he recorded Bechet's ballet, La Colline du Delta. Luter also toured frequently, in 1970 traveling to Los Angeles to participate in events celebrating Louis Armstrong's 70th birthday and in 1997 flying to New Orleans to honor Bechet. All the while, he remained true to the ideals of traditional jazz despite the emergence of successive generations of bebop and free jazz players. Luter continued playing twice monthly at the Paris jazz club Le Petit Journal until late 2005. After complications from a fall, he died October 6, 2006, at the age of 83.
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