Buddy Collette (August 6, 1921 – September 19, 2010), jazz instrumentalist on saxophone, flute, and clarinet; composer, educator, and civil rights activist.

Buddy Collette was a one of the most important figures of West Coast jazz. He led his first band at the age of 12. It included trombonist Britt Woodman (later with Duke Ellington’s band) and the young Charles Mingus on bass, who became his lifelong friend. (Collette convinced Mingus to switch from the cello to string bass.) Buddy Collette was one of the first jazz performers on the flute when he was a member of Chico Hamilton’s pioneering quintet. He was also very active as one of Los Angeles’ first black studio musicians. He frequently performed for movies, television programs, and awards shows, including the Academy Awards. He was also featured both as a leader and a sideman on hundreds of recordings, including Mingus’ infamous 1962 Town Hall Concert.

Collette was an important voice in the struggle for civil rights. He was an active supporter of singer/activist Paul Robeson and helped integrate the black and white Musician’s Unions in Los Angeles. As he stated in a later interview:

“I knew that was something that had to be done … 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.”

As a composer, Buddy Collette wrote pieces in both jazz and classical styles, including a commission from the Library of Congress. Although a stroke in 1998 ended his performing career, he continued to remain active as an author (publishing the autobiography Jazz Generations) and educator. Former students included Eric Dolphy, Sonny Criss, Charles Lloyd, Frank Morgan, and James Newton. (Watch a solo performance by Buddy Collette here.)

Read NPR’s Jazz Profiles page on Buddy Collette or visit the official Buddy Collette website: www.buddycollette.com.

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