In Memoriam: Jazz Artists We Lost in 2020

In this final post of 2020, we pay tribute to the jazz greats who passed away, during this very eventful year. Included is a playlist of some of their memorable performances.

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.

New York Jazz Workshop Remembers Jimmy Cobb (1929-2020)

The jazz world mourns the passing of legendary drummer Jimmy Cobb.  2020, with the horrendous pandemic sweeping globally will go down as one of the worst years in history, if not the worst ever.  The jazz world this year has lost  some of the greatest musicians including pianist Mike Longo, trumpeter Wallace Roney, and alto saxophonist Lee Konitz as a result of the pandemic.  Perhaps the biggest and most heartbreaking loss this year is the […]

The jazz world mourns the passing of legendary drummer Jimmy Cobb.  2020, with the horrendous pandemic sweeping globally will go down as one of the worst years in history, if not the worst ever.  The jazz world this year has lost  some of the greatest musicians including pianist Mike Longo, trumpeter Wallace Roney, and alto saxophonist Lee Konitz as a result of the pandemic.  Perhaps the biggest and most heartbreaking loss this year is the loss of drummer Jimmy Cobb, the lone surviving member of Miles Davis’ legendary Kind of Blue session recorded over two dates in 1959.  Cobb, whose resume includes Earl Bostic, Dinah Washington, Wes Montgomery, Wayne Shorter and Miles, and as well as leading his own bands for many years remained a strong player till the end, was known for his insuperable ride cymbal beat, incredible sensitivity to dynamics, fantastic brushwork and  peerless ability to swing.  Cobb passed away at his Manhattan home at 91 on May 24th.

Wilbur James Cobb was born in Washington, DC on January 20, 1929.  Entirely self taught, the drummer was inspired to take up drumming from watching an older boy in his neighborhood, and by the age of 21, was already on the road with legendary R&B tenor saxophonist Earl Bostic.  The drummer met Bostic through bassist Keter Betts, and began touring with the saxophonist after meeting him on 125th Street and St. Nicholas in Harlem and began touring one nighters with the saxophonist.  Bostic, incidentally was a huge influence on John Coltrane, and the saxophonist along with others like Jay McNeely, through their use of extended techniques were tremendous influences on the avant garde movement that would occur in the 60’s.  After the tenure with Bostic, the drummer later joined Dinah Washington, and her pianist was one, Wynton Kelly whom Cobb would play with until the pianist’s untimely death in 1971 with Paul Chambers, the drummer’s rhythm section mate with Miles Davis, and Wes Montgomery.  Cobb had also spent one week playing with Charlie Parker as part of disc jockey Symphony Sid’s All Stars, a group that included a young Miles Davis, vibraphonist Milt Jackson, and the recently arrived Belgian sensation Toots Thielemans, then still on guitar before he picked up the instrument for which he is most known– harmonica.

1959 was a pivotal year in jazz.  The music was rapidly changing, with directions moving from chord changes to modal based jazz, John Coltrane stretching harmony to the breaking point, Dave Brubeck introducing new time signatures into the form, and Ornette Coleman was discarding traditional melody, and harmony, into a unique blend he called harmolodics.  Cobb had joined Miles Davis’ group formally in 1958, having been taped at the Newport Jazz Festival for Columbia in July, and having replaced Philly Joe Jones for half the sessions that produced Porgy and Bess when Jones had failed to show up.  The trumpeter called Cobb one evening, and explained that Jones had left the group, and would he be interested in making the gig? Cobb said yes, according to an interview with NYU’s Jazz Department director David Shroeder and explained that Davis had called him at 6 PM, and the gig was at 9 PM!  The drummer hurriedly packed a bag,  his drums, and took a plane, a shuttle that went from NY to Boston in 55 minutes and arrived when the band had just been playing “Round Midnight” and entered following the iconic interlude section.  Cobb was on Kind of Blue and recalled no one had anticipated the kind of success it had.  His cymbal crash beginning the round of solos on “So What” is a perfect example of the kind of drive and swing he brought to the band, and his brush work on “Blue and Green” “All Blues” and “Flamenco Sketches” are all textbook examples of supreme sensitivity, and the uplift he brought two years later to the recording of “Someday My Prince Will Come” with his brush to stick transition is absolutely magisterial.

After leaving Davis, the Kelly-Chambers-Cobb rhythm section went on to join  guitarist Wes Montgomery.  Though Cobb had participated in the 1963 session that produced Boss Guitar (Riverside) with organist Melvin Rhyne, the Kelly-Chambers-Cobb unit really found it’s stride the previous year when they taped Full House with the guitarist the previous year, featuring guest, tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin.  Cobb’s driving pulse and relentless ride is behind Montgomery’s famous version of “No Blues” from Smokin At The Half Note (Verve, 1965) a half live, half studio album which influenced a whole new generation of guitarists.  Cobb remained active, teaching, and being an incubator of young talent including those who have gone onto stardom like Brad Mehldau and tenorist Eric Alexander, releasing the albums The Original Mob (2014) and his final album Dis I Dig Of You earlier this year on Smoke Sessions, the label run by Smoke Jazz and Supper Club,  Cobb’s strong pocket will never been forgotten and live on forever.


The New York Jazz Workshop is offering online classes during this time of quarantine.