Photographer-writer-author Ken Franckling has painstakingly compiled a compendium of more than 400 jazz artists and associates from around the world who died in 2017, with links to obituaries of most of them. Posted at JJANews.org.
It’s a striking document and useful resource, though Franckling says, sadly, “The list seems to get depressingly longer each year.”
Maybe that’s because jazz itself — at least as so recorded and promoted — is now more than 100 years old and the
post-WWII generations that gave the art form its fervent audiences and inspired players for the past 70 years are inevitably thinning.
But as Franckling depicts in his recent book Jazz in the Key of Light, energy and brilliance yet abound. My own 2017 experiences
of jazz in schools, nightclubs, festivals and grassroots events across the country, in Europe, Asia, South and Central America, in general media manifestations and the stubbornly independent underground suggest the music is everywhere, really, if often overlooked and underfinanced.
That said, I’m going to miss a lot of those creative artists who died during the past 12 months — especially Muhal Richard Abrams, Geri Allen, Nat Hentoff, Bern Nix, Roswell Rudd and Willie Pickens, all of whom I’ve often listened to, enjoyed and learned from.
Luckily, as their unique expressions and ideas have been documented, we will be able to summon something of them, spirits and thoughts, again and again. A primer —
- Muhal Richard Abrams, Mama and Daddy Compositions with improv take surprising turns, as played by aspontaneous, multi-hued ensemble.
- Geri Allen, Eyes in theBack of Your Head The pianist’s themes launch intuitive explorations by a quintetfeaturing her one-time husband trumpeter Wallace Rooney and a mentor, alto saxist Ornette Coleman.
- Nat Hentoff and Nat Shapiro, Hear Me Talkin’ To Ya Lovingly collected and edited oral history anecdotes from great players of the ’30s to the ’60s. The Nats heard them talkin’, and made sure we could, too.
- Bern Nix, Body Meta A guitarist variously quizzical, humble, contrary and lyrical, contributing most memorably to Ornette Coleman’s peerless electric Prime Time.
- Roswell Rudd, Numatik Swing Band The trombonist tenderly blustered and moaned across a spectrum of styles, Dixieland to Tuvan, always as himself; his 1973 Jazz Composers Orchestra suite is joyful, vivid, playfully rough and tumble, modernistic fun.
- Willie Pickens It’s About Time The Chicago pianist was under-recored as a leader, just this full of warmth and drive plus three albums of religious and Christmas music. There’s also a duet with Marian McPartland, an album with Elvin Jones on tour, and his contribution to Eddie Harris’ hit version of “Exodus.” Time rewarded.