The Artists We Lost In 2020


The past year’s been rough, and the next few months might not be too much better. At some point, though, life might resume some sort of normalcy. That doesn’t mean losing vocal innovators and fearless improvisors in 2020 was any easier.

This by no means is a comprehensive roundup—we’ll miss pianists Stanley Cowell and Frank Kimbrough as much as anyone mentioned below. But take a look back at some of the musicians, artists and writers we lost during the past year. DB

Cándido Camero (1921–2020)

Camero, an NEA Jazz Master who was regarded as the father of modern conga drumming, died Nov. 7 in New York. He was 99.

Jimmy Cobb (1929–2020)

Drummer Cobb—famous for a discography that includes appearances on numerous Miles Davis albums, including 1959’s Kind Of Blue—died in his Manhattan home May 25 from lung cancer. He was 91.

Mark Colby (1949–2020)

Saxophonist Colby died Aug. 31 from complications related to cancer. He was 71.

Freddy Cole (1931–2020)

Pianist and singer Cole—whose performance style frequently was compared to that of his older brother, DownBeat Hall of Fame inductee Nat “King” Cole—died June 27 from undisclosed causes at his Atlanta home. He was 88.

Richie Cole (1948–2020)

Cole, a renowned saxophonist, died May 2 of natural causes in Carnegie, Pennsylvania. He was 72.

Jon Christensen (1943–2020)

Christensen, the Norwegian drummer who was the backbone for dozens of ECM releases and was widely considered a crucial element of the Scandinavian jazz community, died in his sleep at home in Oslo on Feb. 18. He was 76.

Stanley Crouch (1945–2020)

Crouch, a critic and writer who was as erudite as he was divisive, died Sept. 16 in New York at the age of 74.

Eddy Davis (1940–2020)

Davis, a banjo player and bandleader who performed frequently with filmmaker/clarinetist Woody Allen, died April 7 in New York due to complications from COVID-19.

Manu Dibango (1933–2020)

Dibango, the Cameroonian saxophonist who helped expand African music’s global reach by fusing it with jazz, funk, r&b and reggae, died March 24 at the age of 85 after contracting COVID-19.

Andy González (1951–2020)

Bassist González, who was famous for the influential Latin-jazz recordings he made with the Fort Apache Band, died on April 9. He was 69.

Henry Grimes (1935–2020)

Philadelphia-born bassist Grimes, revered for his work alongside jazz titans, died April 15 at the age of 84. His death was attributed to complications from COVID-19.

Jimmy Heath (1926–2020)

Heath, who died Jan. 19 in Loganville, Georgia, at age 93, was a master of multiple components of the jazz calling.

Lee Konitz (1927–2020)

Chicago-born alto saxophonist Konitz passed away April 15 at the age of 92.

Mike Longo (1939–2020)

Pianist Longo, best known for his long tenure with Dizzy Gillespie’s band, died on March 22 at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. His health was compromised by COVID-19. He was 81.

Johnny Mandel (1925–2020)

Songwriter Mandel, an Oscar and Grammy winner whose compositions included “The Shadow Of Your Smile” and theme song to the film and TV series M*A*S*H, died June 29 at his home in Ojai, California, from a cardiac ailment. He was 94.

Ellis Marsalis (1934–2020)

Pianist Marsalis, the head of a New Orleans family that impacted how jazz is seen and heard across the world, died April 1. He was 85.

Lyle Mays (1953–2020)

Mays, the keyboardist who spent a significant portion of his career recording and performing as a member of the Pat Metheny Group, died Feb. 10 at Adventist Hospital in Simi Valley, California. He was 66.

Jymie Merritt (1926–2020)

Philadelphia-born bassist Merritt, an enduring member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, was 93 when he passed away April 10.

Gary Peacock (1935–2020)

Bassist Peacock, who performed and recorded alongside trailblazing bandleaders Albert Ayler, Keith Jarrett and scores of others, in addition to leading his own trio, died Sept. 4 at age 85.

Charli Persip (1931–2020)

Drummer Persip, who enjoyed a long career as a drummer and jazz educator, died Aug. 23 at the age of 91.

Claudio Roditi (1946–2020)

Roditi, a Brazilian-bred trumpeter and cornetist, died Jan. 17 at the age of 73.

Wallace Roney (1960–2020)

Trumpeter Roney—a stalwart of New York’s straightahead scene whose career put him in the path of legends like Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter—died March 31 at the age of 59 due to complications from COVID-19.

Annie Ross (1930–2020)

Vocal innovator Ross died July 21 from emphysema and heart disease at her home in Manhattan. She was 89.

Joe Segal (1926–2020)

Few impresarios spent as many decades maintaining a home for jazz as Chicago’s Segal, who died Aug. 10 at the age of 94.

Viola Smith (1912–2020)

Smith, a pioneering big band-era drummer known as the “fastest girl drummer in the world,” died at her home in Costa Mesa, California, on Oct. 21. She was 107.

Keith Tippett (1947–2020)

Pianist/keyboardist Tippett, a titan of the British music scene who worked in jazz, progressive rock, experimental and classical music, died from undisclosed causes. He was 72.

McCoy Tyner (1938–2020)

A member of the classic John Coltrane quartet of the 1960s, as well as a powerful improviser and potent composer in his own right, pianist Tyner died March 6 at his home in New Jersey. He was 81.

  • Casey_B_2011-115-Edit.jpg

    Benjamin possessed a fluid, round sound on the alto saxophone, and he was often most recognizable by the layers of electronic effects that he put onto the instrument.

  • Charles_Mcpherson_by_Antonio_Porcar_Cano_copy.jpg

    “He’s constructing intelligent musical sentences that connect seamlessly, which is the most important part of linear playing,” Charles McPherson said of alto saxophonist Sonny Red.

  • Albert_Tootie_Heath_2014_copy.jpg

    ​Albert “Tootie” Heath (1935–2024) followed in the tradition of drummer Kenny Clarke, his idol.

  • Geri_Allen__Kurt_Rosenwinkel_8x12_9-21-23_%C2%A9Michael_Jackson_copy.jpg

    “Both of us are quite grounded in the craft, the tradition and the harmonic sense,” Rosenwinkel said of his experience playing with Allen. “Yet I felt we shared something mystical as well.”

  • 1_Henry_Threadgills_Zooid_by_Cora_Wagoner.jpg

    Henry Threadgill performs with Zooid at Big Ears in Knoxville, Tennessee.

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