Legendary LA jazz performer Buddy Collette died last Sunday. He was 89 years old.
Collette was a treasure trove of LA jazz history, a living depository of black culture in this city going back to the 1920s.
Born in 1921, he was exactly the right age to witness, and be a local protagonist of, the transition into bop after World War II.
Collette even mentored a very young Charlie Mingus and was the fundamental primary source for anyone interested in the formative years of the mercurial bass genius. He also pioneered the use of flute in jazz.
Don Heckman's obituary of Collette for the LA Times also highlights Collette's crucial behind-the-scenes efforts for Civil Rights and labor in the music world:
Collette's virtuosic skills on saxophones, flute and clarinet allowed him to move easily from studio work in films, television and recording to small jazz groups and big bands. He was, in addition, one of the activists instrumental in the 1953 merging of the then all-African American musicians union Local 767 and the all-white Local 47.
“I knew that was something that had to be done,” Collette told writer Bill Kohlhaase for a Times story in 2000. “I had been in the service, where our band was integrated. My high school had been fully integrated. I really didn't know anything about racism, but I knew it wasn't right. Musicians should be judged on how they play, not the color of their skin.”
Collette had already crossed the color bar before that in 1949 and 1950 by performing as the only African American musician in the orchestra for Groucho Marx's “You Bet Your Life” radio and television shows.