Buddy DeFranco | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Buddy DeFranco 

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With the arrival of bebop and its emphasis on the darker, meatier timbre of paired trumpet and sax, the clarinet--the instrument that had ruled the swing era--suddenly seemed out of place. Then Buddy DeFranco got hold of it. After working with some of the most famous swing bandleaders in the early 40s, DeFranco was still young enough to appreciate the radical new music of Parker and Gillespie and adapt it to his instrument. His playing had already started to meld the technical wizardry of Benny Goodman with Woody Herman's grittier attack; now he added the angular rhythms and complex harmonic language of bop. DeFranco's mastery of the idiom, which made technical demands beyond those of any jazz before it, has secured his place as one of the great clarinetists of the 20th century. For all that, he's remained largely unknown: casual jazz listeners, who tend to associate the clarinet with the wailing sound of the big bands, often overlook his effortless, understated cool. His almost nonchalant virtuosity can all but obscure the keen musical intellect behind it, but no one has ever played the jazz clarinet with more technique or command than DeFranco, and he appears immune to advancing age. Seeing him play a handful of solos at Ravinia in June (as part of a tribute to Django Reinhardt) made me hope I look as spry when I hit 70--and he's 80. These dates kick off Joe Segal's annual salute to the memory of Charlie Parker, with whom DeFranco played some dates in the late 40s and early 50s. Tuesday through Thursday, July 29 through 31, 8 and 10 PM, Friday and Saturday, August 1 and 2, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, August 3, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473.

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