As we wrap up 2012, I’d like to take some time to remember some of the wonderful contributors to jazz that passed away in 2012. Here is a short list of some of the great musicians we lost over the last year, and as always, feel free to share your memories of these musicians, or any musicians that passed away that aren’t on this list.
Dave Brubeck, 91
(From the HARTFORD, Conn. AP) – Jazz composer and pianist Dave Brubeck, whose pioneering style in pieces such as “Take Five” caught listeners’ ears with exotic, challenging rhythms, passed away December 5th. Brubeck had a career that spanned almost all American jazz since World War II. He formed The Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1951 and was the first modern jazz musician to be pictured on the cover of Time magazine – on Nov. 8, 1954 – and he helped define the swinging, smoky rhythms of 1950s and ’60s club jazz.
Pete Cosey, 68
(From the Chicago AP) – Pete Cosey, an innovative guitarist who brought his distinctive distorted sound to recordings with Miles Davis, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters, died May 30th. In the 1960s, Cosey was a member of the studio band at Chess Records in Chicago, where he played on Waters’ “Electric Mud” and Howlin’ Wolf’s “Howlin’ Wolf Album.” Cosey also worked with Etta James and Chuck Berry. Cosey ended up playing on many of Miles Davis’ boundary-pushing recordings in the 1970s, including “Dark Magus,” ”Agharta” and “The Complete On the Corner Sessions.”
Clare Fischer, 83
(From the Los Angeles AP) – Clare Fischer, a Grammy-winning composer who wrote scores for television and movies and worked with legendary musicians like Dizzy Gillespie, died January 26th. An uncommonly versatile musician, Fischer worked as a composer, arranger, conductor and pianist for more than 60 years. He is best known for his arrangements for Prince, Michael Jackson, Paul McCartney, Branford Marsalis, Raphael Saadiq, Usher and Brandy.
Von Freeman, 88
(From the Chicago AP) – Earle Lavon Freeman, a tenor saxophonist and National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master, passed away August 11th, remembered as a jazz great who made every song his own with a husky, melodic sound. Freeman never became of a major star but was highly regarded as a musician by other jazz practitioners. Miles Davis reportedly wanted him in the 1950s, but Freeman refused to leave his native Chicago for most of his career, taking only the briefest trips out of the city to perform.
James “Red” Holloway, 84
(From the Morro Bay, Calif. AP) – James “Red” Holloway, a noted saxophonist who played with the greats from the big band era through bebop, blues, R&B and modern jazz, died February 25th in California. During a career that spanned nearly seven decades, Holloway’s versatility and driving swing style kept him much in demand. He performed with legends such as Billie Holiday, B.B. King, Lionel Hampton and Aretha Franklin.
Etta James, 73
(From the Los Angeles AP) – Etta James, the feisty R&B singer whose raw, passionate vocals anchored many hits and made the yearning ballad “At Last” an enduring anthem for weddings, commercials and even President Obama, died January 20th. James performed well into her senior years, and it was “At Last” that kept bringing her the biggest ovations. The song was a perennial that never aged, and on Jan. 20, 2009, as crowds celebrated that – at last – an African-American had become president of the United States, the song played as the first couple danced.
Ravi Shankar, 92
(From New Delhi AP) – From George Harrison to John Coltrane, from Yehudi Menuhin to David Crosby, his connections reflected music’s universality, though a gap persisted between Shankar and many Western fans. Shankar died December 11th. As early as the 1950s, Shankar began collaborating with and teaching some of the greats of Western music, including violinist Menuhin and jazz saxophonist Coltrane. He played well-received shows in concert halls in Europe and the United States, but faced a constant struggle to bridge the musical gap between the West and the East. To later generations, he was known as the estranged father of popular American singer Norah Jones.