by Scott Yanow
The last year has resulted in many top jazz artists passing away and they have been receiving well-deserved tributes. However it is long overdue for the jazz world to pay attention to the great veterans who are still with us. Each of the 41 musicians who are featured in this article, all of whom were at least 90 as of April 1, 2021, has made major contributions to the legacy of jazz. Roughly half are still active and should be seen whenever they come to town while some of the others have not been heard from in quite some time. They are listed in order of their age with a brief summary. My apologies to any that I have missed.
Louise Tobin – singer (102) – The only living jazz artist who recorded before 1940, Louise Tobin sang with Benny Goodman in 1939, was Mrs. Harry James before Betty Grable, and had a long and happy marriage to clarinetist Peanuts Hucko. Always a cheerful swing vocalist, she is the last of the surviving big band singers of the swing era.
Ray Anthony – trumpeter-bandleader (99) – The last living member of the original Glenn Miller Orchestra, Anthony led his own big bands from 1946 on, did his best to keep swing popular in the 1950s, and appeared in several movies.
Ray Sherman – pianist (97) – A superb pianist, Sherman was a major part of the Los Angeles Dixieland scene in the 1950s, appearing on a countless number of jazz and studio dates including with Ben Pollack, Pete’s Kelly’s Big Seven, Matty Matlock, Abe Most, and the Kings of Dixieland.
Marshall Allen – alto-saxophonist (96) – A member of Sun Ra’s Arkestra since the mid-1950s, and the leader of that ensemble for the past 15 plus years, Allen started out in bop but has been a leading avant-gardist for much of his long career.
Terry Gibbs – vibraphonist (96) – One of the greatest vibraphonists of all time, the lovable Gibbs always played and talked fast, performing exciting bebop, He was a professional by the time he was 12, became famous as a member of Woody Herman’s Second Herd, worked with Benny Goodman, led his Dream Band in the late 1950s, was an integral part of Steve Allen’s television shows, had a great musical partnership with clarinetist Buddy DeFranco, and only retired in recent times. Since he is on a radio broadcast (playing classical music) from the 1930s, if someone would talk him into making one more recording, he would be the only musician ever to have recorded in ten different decades.
Elliot Lawrence – pianist-arranger-bandleader (96) – The last surviving bandleader from the swing era (he led an orchestra in 1945 when he was 20), Lawrence made some fine recordings in the 1940s and ‘50s before working primarily as an arranger-composer for television, films and Broadway after 1960.
Roy Haynes – drummer (96) – From Luis Russell, the Charlie Parker Quintet and Sarah Vaughan to the John Coltrane Quartet (as the main sub for Elvin Jones), Chick Corea and Pat Metheny not to mention his own groups, the still-active Haynes has worked with just about everyone in modern jazz during the past 75 years.
George Wein – festival producer, pianist (95) – Because he was the Founder of the Newport Jazz Festival and producer of scores of jazz and music festivals, some may overlook the fact that Wein was always an excellent swing pianist inspired by Earl Hines, best heard with the many versions of his Newport All-Stars.
Dave Bailey – drummer (95) – While he played and recorded with many jazz greats in the 1950s and ‘60s (such as Sonny Stitt, Lou Donaldson, Clark Terry and Lee Konitz) and became an educator, Bailey is best-known for performing with Gerry Mulligan’s groups on and off during 1955-66 including the quartet with Art Farmer.
Tony Bennett – singer (94) – Okay, he was never really a jazz singer since he does not improvise much, but Tony Bennett has surrounded himself with jazz musicians throughout his career, sung superior songs, and always stood up for musical quality. In addition, no one wears better suits.
Lou Donaldson – alto-saxophonist (94) – Donaldson combined the inspiration of Charlie Parker with his bluesy and witty musical personality, became a Blue Note star, held his own with Clifford Brown, led many albums with organists, had a soul jazz hit with “Alligator Boogaloo,” and ultimately stuck with the bebop music that he loves.
Dick Hyman – piano (94) – While Hyman can play in virtually any style and is a skilled composer, he is a true master of stride and swing piano who is still at the top of his field and an inspiration to all.
George Freeman – guitar (93) – Part of the Chicago jazz scene since the late 1940s, the still-active Freeman (who played twice with Charlie Parker) worked with Gene Ammons, Richard “Groove” Holmes, Jimmy McGriff, his older brother Von Freeman, and with his own soul jazz groups.
Barbara Dane – singer (93) – Although best-known as a social activist and a singer of folk music and blues, Dane also performed on television with Louis Armstrong and utilized such sidemen as Earl Hines, Benny Carter, Don Ewell, and Wellman Braud on her recordings of early jazz.
Bill Holman – arranger, composer, leader, tenor-saxophonist (93) – His arrangements for Stan Kenton in the 1950s put him on the map and Holman (who was also a fine tenor player) has not stopped writing since. His own big band, formed in 1975 and on record since 1988, has been the best outlet for his adventurous yet swinging arrangements.
Doc Severinsen –trumpeter, bandleader (93) – Nationally famous due to his nightly appearances as the bandleader on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, Severinsen played with Charlie Barnet (next to Maynard Ferguson) in 1949, was on many studio sessions, and was always a technically dazzling trumpeter; he still tours now and then.
Martial Solal – pianist (93) – The French pianist Solal started in bebop, recorded an excellent album with Sidney Bechet, and has been a very original improviser since that time, playing in his own adventurous style.
Cleo Laine – singer (93) – The British singer always had a remarkable range, both in notes and the number of idioms in which she sang. Most of her jazz dates were with her late husband alto-saxophonist Johnny Dankworth.
Ernie Andrews – singer (93) – A veteran of the Central Avenue Scene of the late 1940s, Andrews sang with the Harry James band in the 1960s and the Capp/Pierce Juggernaut but has mostly worked as a single for many decades, singing his brand of blues, bop and ballads.
Bill Crow – bassist (93) – He worked with Gerry Mulligan (part of the time alongside Dave Bailey), Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Bob Brookmeyer, Clark Terry, Benny Goodman and many others. As an author, Crow wrote his memoirs (From Birdland To Broadway) and the often-hilarious Jazz Anecdotes.
Dick Nash – trombonist (93) – A top-notch jazz trombonist who also worked extensively in the studios (including on Henry Mancini’s soundtracks), Dick Nash’s brother and son were both major saxophonists named Ted Nash.
Conrad Janis – trombonist (93) – While now best known as an actor (including on Mork & Mindy), Janis was a long-time Dixieland trombonist, using James P. Johnson and Baby Dodds as sidemen in the late 1940s and leading the Beverly Hills Unlisted Jazz Band in the 1980s.
Freddie Redd – pianist, composer (92) – The composer of the music for the 1959 play The Connection, Redd was an excellent hard bop pianist who led a series of albums for several labels, most notably Blue Note and, as late as 2016, Steeplechase.
Peter Ind – bassist (92) – The British bassist worked with Lennie Tristano, Lee Konitz, Buddy Rich, Mal Waldron, Slim Gaillard and Bud Freeman, and led sessions for his own Wave label.
Vi Redd – alto-saxophonist, singer (92) – While she never recorded enough (just two very good albums as a leader, a record with Marian McPartland, and a few guest appearances), Vi Redd was a very talented altoist who mixed together bebop and the blues in her own voice.
Sheila Jordan – singer (92) – Although she was directly inspired by her friend Charlie Parker, was married to pianist Duke Jordan in 1952, and recorded an excellent album for Blue Note in 1962, Sheila Jordan was not a fulltime jazz singer until the mid-1970s. Since then she has pioneered the voice-bass duo, made many rewarding recordings, performed regularly, and become a beloved and very encouraging educator.
Frank Tiberi – tenor and alto-saxophonist (92) – Tiberi was not only a member of the Woody Herman Orchestra during much of 1970-87 but he eventually took over the big band after Herman’s passing, also recording some fine bop-oriented albums of his own.
Benny Golson – tenor-saxophonist, composer, arranger (92) – Golson helped Art Blakey with the Jazz Messengers (introducing him to Lee Morgan), co-led the Jazztet with Art Farmer, wrote such jazz standards as “Killer Joe,” “Whisper Not,” “I Remember Clifford,” “Along Came Betty” and “Blues March,” and has performed rewarding tenor solos for over 65 years.
Eiji Kitamura – clarinetist (91) – An excellent swing clarinetist from Japan, Eiji Kitamura recorded for Concord and was a regular at the Monterey Jazz Festival for years.
Toshiko Akiyoshi – pianist, arranger, composer, bandleader (91) – As a Bud Powell-inspired pianist and leader of her own big band (which featured her husband tenor-saxophonist and flutist Lew Tabackin), Akiyoshi has made a strong mark on the jazz world.
Barry Harris – pianist (91) – A masterful bebop pianist whether playing music by Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk or Tadd Dameron (check out his Xanadu albums of the 1970s), Harris has also had a major impact as an educator.
Johnny Varro – pianist (91) – A superior swing pianist, Varro worked with such notables as Phil Napoleon, Pee Wee Erwin, Eddie Condon, Eddie Miller and Ed Polcer, recording several very good albums as leader and sideman for the Arbors label during the 1990-2010 period including with his Swing 7.
Marty Grosz – guitarist, singer (91) – Whether playing chordal solos on his acoustic guitar, singing like Fats Waller, or ad-libbing hilarious monologues, Marty Grosz is always a joy to see perform, specializing in swing tunes and obscurities from the pre-bop years.
Richard Davis – bassist (90) – Technically skilled enough to be in classical orchestras, the versatile Davis worked with Sarah Vaughan, Eric Dolphy, Jaki Byard, Andrew Hill, Elvin Jones, the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, and even Bruce Springsteen and Igor Stravinsky.
Sam Noto – trumpeter (90) – A soloist with the Stan Kenton Orchestra of the mid-1950s, Noto also worked with Count Basie, Rob McConnell, and in many all-star combos where his bebop style and warm sound were quite welcome.
Bob Havens – trombonist (90) – While he was a longtime member of the Lawrence Welk Show (1960-82), Havens is best known in jazz for being a very talented Dixieland trombonist. Along the way he worked with George Girard, Al Hirt, and Pete Fountain, appearing at many classic jazz festivals.
Ahmad Jamal – pianist (90) – Leader of his own trio since at least 1951 and one whose “less is more” approach influenced Miles Davis, Jamal had a surprise hit in 1958 with “Poinciana.” He has been a consistently creative musical force for 70 years, recording dozens of worthy albums.
Helen Merrill – singer (90) – From the start of her career, virtually every recording by this creative yet accessible jazz singer seemed to have a purpose and memorable moments. Check out her albums with Clifford Brown and Gil Evans, or actually any of her recordings; they are all worthy of your time.
Sonny Rollins – tenor-saxophonist (90) – Simply one of the greatest of all jazz improvisers whether it is his 1950s classics for Prestige, Riverside, Contemporary or Blue Note, his adventurous (and sometimes overlooked) 1960s recordings, or his later work when he was particularly inspired. Forced to retire from playing after 2012 due to respiratory problems, Sonny Rollins is still missed.
Nancy Harrow – singer (90) – After making two excellent albums during 1960-62, Harrow raised a family, not returning to fulltime singing until 1975. She has since recorded many underrated gems whether they were standards, her own originals, or tunes taken from unusual sources.
David Amram – French horn, piano, pennywhistle, flute (90) – A true Renaissance man, throughout his career Amram gave one the impression that he could enthusiastically jam with musicians from any culture. In the jazz world he recorded with Lionel Hampton, Bobby Jaspar, Oscar Pettiford, Kenny Dorham, Mary Lou Williams, and Dizzy Gillespie among others. He also wrote film scores, was involved in the Jazz & Poetry movement, composed classical works, and led a wide variety of fascinating recordings, often teaming together unusual groups of musicians.
There are also quite a few major musicians who are in their mid-to-late 80’s who should be mentioned. Trumpeter Dizzy Reece, tenor-saxophonist Plas Johnson and guitarists John Pisano and Kenny Burrell are currently 89. Among those turning 88 during the past year are Quincy Jones, trombonist-arranger Slide Hampton, pianist-arranger Lalo Schifrin, altoists Jerry Dodgion, Sadao Watanabe, John Handy and Sonny Simmons, and pianist-composer Dave Frishberg. The 87-year olds include tenor and soprano-saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter, altoist Lanny Morgan, and clarinetist Joe Licari. The great 86 year olds are cornetist Bobby Bradford, trombonists Herb Gardner and Curtis Fuller, tenors Houston Person and George Coleman, vibraphonist Karl Berger, and pianist-composers Dave Grusin and Abdullah Ibrahim. Finally, the 85 year olds include trumpeter Don Rader, trombonist Julian Priester, guitarist Sonny Greenwich, pianist-singer Les McCann, pianists Ran Blake and Ramsey Lewis, bassist Cecil McBee, and drummer Albert “Tootie” Heath.
While the jazz life can be rough and has resulted in many casualties, it is also true that the music keeps one young. Each of the musicians mentioned in this piece deserve to be celebrated and applauded.