Buddy DeFranco, the renowned jazz musician who brought the clarinet sound from the swing to the bebop eras, has died at the age of 91.

His family informed the Associated Press that the respected musician died on Wednesday evening at a hospital in Panama City. At the end of his life, DeFranco and his wife Joyce had lived in that city, but his health had been declining in recent years.

In an e-mail to the Associated Press, leading jazz clarinettist Ken Peplowski said: “Buddy DeFranco almost single-handedly was the clarinetist who moved the harmonic and rhythmic language forward from where Benny Goodman left off into the much more adventurous territory of bebop and beyond, while never forgetting his roots in swing music. He was also unfailingly kind and supportive to every other clarinetist who came after him.”

DeFranco began his career at the end of 1930s as a teenager, winning a national Tommy Dorsey Swing contest and gaining the opportunity to perform onstage and on record with many vocal greats of the time, including Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole.

Throughout the 1940s, he was part of swing bands led by big names such as Gene Krupa and the aforementioned Tommy Dorsey. In the 1950s, detecting the decreasing interest in swing and big band music, DeFranco helped to forge the sound that became known as bebop by joining the Count Basie Septet.

After that, he began performing with noted greats of the sub-genre such as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, excited by the new opportunities to improvise offered the looser, freer sound of bebop.

However, he remained fond of swing music, hosting his own public access television show ‘The Buddy DeFranco Jazz Forum’, and leading the Glenn Miller Orchestra well into the 1970s. Put together, DeFranco contributed to nearly 200 permanent recordings.

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