Acknowledging A Heavy Week In Jazz

The genre lost six significant figures in the span of a few days

Creed Taylor (Image: Idmb)

“Ars Longa, Vita Brevis” is attributed to Hippocrates. Art is long, life is short. 

We’re reminded that even the most lasting of art is made by human beings; 

but that human beings die. Still, it’s a shock to learn of the deaths of those we admire for their ability to create; to make us feel alive. This last week has been particularly difficult: six people in the Jazz world left us. 

In a music like Jazz which celebrates players as individuals, these losses seem to extinguish whole worlds. The only consolation is the vast number of players coming along to make new worlds of their own. 


Warren Bernhardt was a pianist. As a child he hung out at the round table at The Algonquin in New York. He knew Bill Evans well. He played in Steps Ahead, toured and recorded with Steely Dan and recorded American Pie with Don McLean. Jazz band mates recall going to see him play a solo classical music concert and being floored when he played Chopin and Rachmaninov from memory. The pianist died August 19, 2022. He was 83 years old. 


VIDEO: Warren Bernhardt “Felinicity”


Guitarist Monnette Sudler was a legend in Philadelphia. Called  “Philadelphia’s First Lady of the Guitar” and a “Renaissance Woman,” she was a beloved teacher, mentor and inspiration to generations of musicians. She recorded as a leader for the Danish label SteepleChase as early as 1977 and founded The Philadelphia Guitar Summit in 2009, going on to collaborate with David Murray, Grover Washington Jr., and many others. The guitarist died August 21, 2022 at the age of 70. 


AUDIO: Monnette Sudler Sextet “Brighter Days For You”


Trumpet player Jaimie Branch (she preferred “jaimie breezy branch,” no caps) was only 39 when she died on August 22, 2022. But she had developed a huge reputation within and outside the Jazz world, due partly to her warm outsized personality and her way with audiences. As a trumpet player, she took no prisoners. As an artist she wanted to take the listener with her and used every method available. Based on what I’ve read, I very much regret not having seen her play. 


VIDEO: jaimie branch “Fly or Die”


The influential record producer Creed Taylor died at the age of 93, also on August 22, 2022. Mr. Taylor produced recordings by Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto which not only won Grammy awards but popularized Bossa Nova outside of Brazil. Prior to that he brought John Coltrane to the record label Impulse! After that he recorded dozens of albums by Jazz luminaries on his CTI label. These were notable for their thoughtful quasi-pop production, and helped bring new listeners to Jazz. Listened to now, they’ve aged very well, many of them. If you’re a Jazz listener you likely count a number of Creed Taylor produced recordings among your favorites, as do I. But if you’re not, you’ve heard his famous recording of “The Girl From Ipanema” and a good deal more of his work too. 


AUDIO: Getz/Jobim feat. Astrud Gilberto “The Girl From Ipanema”


If you listened to WBGO, the Jazz and News NPR affiliate in Newark, you probably heard the veteran broadcaster Michael Bourne. You may have seen his byline in the magazine Downbeat. Or perhaps you’d seen him walking from one performance to another at his beloved Montreal Jazz Festival, which he only missed once in recent years, because – inconveniently – he’d had a heart attack. The festival loved Michael Bourne back, too, giving him an award and naming the press room after him. After his heart attack, the festival gave Mr. Bourne a commemorative press pass, one which he didn’t need to apply for every year. He was thrilled. The genial and ursine Jazz journalist, broadcaster, raconteur and beloved mentor died August 21, 2022 at the age of 75. 


VIDEO: Michael Bourne wishes a Happy Holiday on WBGO


Joey DeFrancesco died August 25, 2022, at the age of 51, prompting widespread expressions of shock and grief on social media and beyond. A venerated master of the mighty Hammond B3 organ, Mr. DeFrancesco was also a fine trumpet player and had played tenor saxophone and sung on his most recent recording. This show-stopping and resourceful musician was called to join Miles Davis’ band while not yet out of high school, and was the most respected and well-known Jazz organ player over the last quarter of a century. Other Jazz organists revered him and audiences were thrilled at the opportunity to see him play. 


VIDEO: Joey DeFrancesco Live at Jazz Alley


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David Beckett

A Realtor in Burlington, Vermont, David Beckett has been a friend to Jazz since 1983. David airs a long running Jazz radio show at WWPV FM and serves as a Jazz Director and music librarian at the station. Follow David on Twitter @DavidBeckettVT

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