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Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Jazz saxophonist and rights advocate
Buddy Collette, 89, a Grammy-nominated jazz saxophonist, flautist, bandleader and educator who played important roles in Los Angeles jazz as a musician and an advocate for the rights of African American musicians, died Sept. 19 at a hospital in Los Angeles.
He suffered shortness of breath a day before he died, but no specific cause of death was reported.
Mr. 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," Mr. Collette told writer Bill Kohlhaase for a Los Angeles Times article 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."
Mr. Collette had crossed the color line 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.
"We integrated the Academy Awards, too," Mr. Collette said. "It was 1963, when Sidney Poitier won. We were going to picket that thing. But I was in the band, with saxophonist Bill Green and harpist Toni Robinson-Bogart." Along the way, Mr. Collette, not satisfied with having established a career in the studios, continually laid the foundation for other African American players.
Mr. Collette came to national jazz prominence in 1955 as a founding member of drummer Chico Hamilton's influential quintet. The combination of Mr. Collette's woodwinds and, especially, his flute playing with the cello of Fred Katz and guitar of Jim Hall created a timbre that remains one of the jazz world's most specially appealing sounds.