In Memoriam: Jazz Artists We Lost in 2020

We already know that 2020 was an exceptionally cruel year. And its effect on the jazz world was especially painful. With many of our music’s greats already at an advanced age (albeit vibrantly, for many) and with a brutal virus spreading around, that hits the elderly and those with underlying conditions, far harder than other segments of the population, we knew it could be a tough year for our heroes. Sadly, at least a quarter of those on our list are said to have been suffering from Covid-19 related symptoms, at the time of their death.

So let us pay tribute to those in the jazz world that we lost in 2020. This is not an exhaustive list and I mean no disrespect or slight to the memory of anyone, who was omitted.

  • Tony Allen – Drummer/Percussionist – Musical partner of Fela Kuti for many years. Considered to be the father of the “Afrobeat” style of drumming
  • Ronald “Khalis” Bell – Saxophonist. Founding member of Kool and the Gang
  • Cándido Camero – Cuban percussionist. A pioneer of Afro-Cuban music
  • Jeff Clayton – Saxophonist. Co-leader of the Clayton Brothers (with brother, John). Co-leader of the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra (with Jeff Hamilton)
  • Jimmy Cobb – Master Drummer. Known for his work with Miles Davis (Kind of Blue) and Wes Montgomery (Smokin’ at the Half Note)
  • Freddy Cole – Vocalist and Pianist. Younger brother of Nat “King Cole. An excellent vocal stylist in his own right.
  • Richie Cole – Saxophonist. Known for “Alto Madness” and his work with Eddie Jefferson and The Manhattan Transfer
  • Stanley Cowell – Pianist and Record Company Founder. Excellent, if underrated jazz pianist. Known for his work with the Heath Brothers and co-founding Strata East Records
  • Stanley Crouch – Writer and Critic – Wrote for Jazz Times magazine, for many years. Associated with Wynton Marsalis. Sometimes controversial columnist and author
  • Manu Dibango – Cameroonian Saxophonist. Best known for his 1972 soul-jazz smash hit, “Soul Makossa”
  • Andy González – Bassist.  He successfully bridged the Afro-Cuban and jazz worlds. Co-founded the legendary Fort Apache Band (with brother Andy) and Libré (with Manny Oquendo)
  • Henry Grimes – Bassist. One of the leading free-jazz bassists during the 60’s. Returned to a successful career in the 21st Century.
  • Onaje Allan Gumbs – Pianist/Keyboardist. Worked extensively with Woody Shaw, Phyllis Hyman, and Ronald Shannon Jackson. Also recorded some fine contemporary jazz albums.
  • Jimmy Heath – Saxophonist/Flutist. Co-founder of the Heath Brothers (with brothers Percy and Albert). Played with everyone from Miles to Hargrove. Exceptional composer/arranger.
  • Frank Kimbrough – Pianist. Outstanding N.C. born post-bop pianist. Known for his work with Joe Locke and the Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra.
  • Lee Konitz – Saxophonist. A leading influencer for many decades, in the cool-jazz, bebop and avant-garde idioms. Played on Miles Davis’ “Birth of the Cool”.
  • Mike Longo – Pianist/Keyboardist. Worked with Dizzy Gillespie for years, as well as leading his own group, the Mike Longo trio.
  • Johnny Mandel – Composer and Arranger. Winner of multiple Oscars and Grammy awards. Composed “Theme from MASH”, “The Shadow of Your Smile”, “Close Enough for Love”.
  • Ellis Marsalis – Pianist and Educator. A major influence on many on the New Orleans jazz scene. The father of Branford, Wynton, Delfeayo and Jason Marsalis.
  • Lyle Mays – Keyboardist and Composer. Longtime musical partner of guitarist Pat Metheny.
  • Jymie Merritt – Bassist. Most notable for being the bass player with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, from 1957 – 1962, one of their most influential periods.
  • Gary Peacock – Bassist. Well respected and prolifically recorded leader and sideman. Worked notably with Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans, Albert Ayler, and Paul Bley.
  • Bucky Pizzarelli – Guitarist. Master of the seven-string guitar. Prolific artist who worked with everyone, from Benny Goodman to Anita Baker. Father of John and Martin Pizzarelli.
  • Charli Persip – Drummer. In addition to leading his own band, he worked notably with Dizzy Gillespie’s bands of the late 50’s and early 60’s, as well as with Red Garland.
  • Claudio Roditi – Brazilian Jazz Trumpeter. Worked with Paquito D’Rivera and Dizzy’s United Nations Big Band, in addition to his own impressive career as a leader.
  • Wallace Roney – Trumpeter. Gained immense popularity in the 90’s, after working alongside Miles Davis and receiving the legend’s blessing. Former husband of the late Geri Allen.
  • Annie Ross – Vocalist and Actress. The “Ross” in Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, the most influential jazz vocal group of all time. Also, an excellent vocalist, in her own right.
  • Ira Sullivan – Trumpeter/Flugelhornist/Saxophonist/Composer. Active from the 1950’s – 2010’s. Remembered mostly for his work alongside trumpeter Red Rodney.
  • McCoy Tyner – Pianist. One of the greatest and most influential pianists of the last four decades of the 20th Century. Pianist in the classic John Coltrane Quartet. A legend.
  • Eugene Wright – Bassist – “The Senator”. Known primarily for his role as the bass player in the legendary Dave Brubeck Quartet. Was the last surviving member of that group.

We have also included below, a super sized Spotify playlist, that includes a sampling of the music of many of those that we honor. In the case of Jymie Merritt, the best representation of his artistry came from some of his work in the group that he is most closely associated with; the Jazz Messengers. We’ve included “Moanin'”, their signature performance. To hear Merritt at his best, skip to 7:00, near the end of the tune, when he digs into a hard groovin’ bass statement, accompanied only by Blakey and Timmons comp. Sweet!

Enjoy the list and honor the music of those who have joined the ancestors, then remember, that the music can only continue to survive and thrive, if you give love and attention to those who can still hear you give it, our living artists. Let’s strive in 2021, to support those who still play this music despite everything that is against them. Now more than ever, they need to hear your love and support; especially in the legal purchase of their music.

Happy and prosperous New Year, to all.

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