Fred Dutton

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A listener subsisting only on a diet of bassoon in jazz would waste away pretty quickly. A few additional nibbles are available thanks to Fred Dutton, who played not only bassoon but contrabassoon on…
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A listener subsisting only on a diet of bassoon in jazz would waste away pretty quickly. A few additional nibbles are available thanks to Fred Dutton, who played not only bassoon but contrabassoon on about ten jazz records between 1951 and 1962. Dutton, who also played bass, was a member of the very first quartet formed by pianist Dave Brubeck in 1951, an ensemble that also made use of the double-reed instrument with an outstanding range. Despite that favorable characteristic, bassoonists seem hard-pressed to keep up with the volume and energy demands of a typical jazz combo, a situation that may have been made somewhat easier for Dutton by Brubeck's relatively tame approach to swinging.

Extensive classical study was part of Dutton's background, hardly surprising for a bassoonist. His grandmother was a performing classical pianist; Dutton himself garnered a degree in musicology in 1957. In the late '50s, Dutton became part of the European jazz scene, performing with, among others, Romano Mussolini, the son of the notorious Italian dictator. German jazz fans probably saw Dutton on television with bandleader Hans Koller in the early '60s. As a bassist, Dutton was a straightforward disciple of superb rhythm section players such as Paul Chambers and Ray Brown, but also liked the edgier side of young Scott LaFaro. Dutton's best-known bassoon appearances on record are most certainly as part of the classic Gil Evans and Miles Davis collaborations. The bassoonist went on to work with symphonies in both San Francisco and Los Angeles.