In Memoriam: Jazz Artists We Lost in 2019

The final days of 2019 offer a moment to reflect on the year in jazz. At JAZZIZ, we take great pleasure in looking back on the wealth of music that was released in months past, which is why we’re only too happy to share with you our annual Best Songs of the Year list and playlists from our final issue of 2019.

But in all things joyous, there is often a kernel of sadness, and it’s now that we pause to remember some of the iconic jazz artists who bid us farewell this year.

In jazz, there is a strong tradition of commemorating a departed musician’s life not in sorrow but in song. It’s a way of celebrating the artist’s lasting contribution to the music, not the cessation of his or her work. In that spirit, we remember those we lost in 2019 through the music they so nobly left behind.

Harold Mabern
March 20, 1936 – September 17, 2019

A pianist whose warm, soul-infused playing was a glowing reminder of the bond between jazz and blues. Read more.

Dr. John
November 20, 1941 – June 6, 2019

A legendary New Orleans singer-songwriter whose music came to define the sound of his city. Read more.

Joseph Jarman
September 14, 1937 – January 9, 2019

An early free-jazz pioneer, and a mainstay of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and the Art Ensemble of Chicago.


Clora Bryant
May 30, 1927 – August 25, 2019

A female jazz pioneer and pillar of the Los Angeles jazz scene. She was mentored by saxophone great Charlie Parker and aligned herself with the emerging bebop scene of the 1940s. Read more.


Sol Yaged
December 8, 1922 – May 11, 2019

A Brooklyn-born clarinetist who became a mainstay of the New York Swing scene. Yaged was his hometown’s version of Benny Goodman.

Ira Gitler
December 18, 1928 – February 23, 2019

An American jazz journalist who contributed hundreds of liner notes for jazz recordings. He is credited with coining the phrase “sheets of sound” to describe John Coltrane’s playing style.


Ethel Ennis
November 28, 1932 – February 17, 2019

A Baltimore jazz icon whose career as a vocalist spanned seven decades. She was often called “The First Lady of Jazz” in her hometown.

Vic Vogel
August 3, 1935 – September 16, 2019

A Canadian jazz pianist who would become an indispensable voice on the Montreal jazz scene and one of the Montreal Jazz Festival’s favorite artists.

Connie Jones
1934 – February 13, 2019

A New Orleans-born cornetist who performed with Pete Fountain and other legends of the Crescent City.

Larry Willis
December 20, 1942 – September 29, 2019

A pianist whose remarkable dexterity spanned genres, from bebop to Afro-Cuban to the avant-garde. Read more.

Ray Santos
December 28, 1928 – October 17, 2019

A Gramm Award-winning saxophonist, arranger and composer who performed alongside Eddie Palmieri, Tito Puente and other titans of Latin Jazz. Santos composed the theme song for The Mambo Kings in 1982.


There are, unfortunately, a handful of other names that could have been added to this lift, and to those artists, we offer our profound appreciation. As with the musicians above — and as with every creative person who turns imagination into reality — we are better for having enjoyed their art.

Feature image courtesy Bruce Weber

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