LJC contributor Rodrigo sent me a fascinating chart he had prepared about the lifespan of his favourite jazz musicians. I took a crack at this myself a while back, but our man is a master of non-standard graphical presentation tools, respect, so I pressed him to make some variations, different rankings to force the data to yield up its story from different angles. I love intelligently organised information, there’s always something new to be learned from it.
My thanks to Rodrigo, and his talking numbers.
Charts have been updated to correct data for Paul Chambers and Kenny Dorham ( on June 7, 2014). Any further corrections required, kindly note in the comments.
Always remember: mistakes happen, that’s why they put an eraser on the end of pencils.
1. Jazz Musician’s Lifespan, within Primary Instrument
Bass players seem to shuffle off this mortal coil pretty damn quick, or seem to live forever. It’s amazing how much talent was cut short, and how the heavy lifting of the double bass keeps you fit.
2. Jazz Musicians within instrument, by year of birth
For each instrument, from the oldest guys to the young bloods. Who arrived on the scene first, became early influences on those that followed perhaps?
3. Jazz musicians by year of death within instrument,.
Always interesting to note who is currently still standing. We seem to have lost proportionally more of our brass section. For longer term retirement security , invest now in piano trio futures.
4. When they died: jazz musicians lifespan by year of death, all instruments
Nice to see the survivors all in one place at the foot of the chart. Looks to me like Van Gelder is the longest-lived of them all. How ironic that the great jazz band in the sky is still waiting for the engineer to show up and press the record button.
5. Jazz musicians lifespan mapped to year of birth and death, and those still living.
This final chart has true to life chronology, all the jazz musicians mapped from year of birth and year of death in real time, ranked from top to bottom by lifespan, shortest lives at the top, longest lives at the bottom until we reach the “still living” cluster. Their departure is delayed, but not indefinitely.
A good place to stop. Rodrigo’s clean and elegant graphics are a delight. All the ink works, nothing decorates.
LJC Thinks: Reading a few biographies of jazz musicians you note lives cut short, the common-place presence of narcotics, run-ins with the law, miles on the road, the money hassles, offset against one of the most satisfying of all human creative activities: making music, with other people. With improvisation. We should be grateful modern jazz happened at all, let alone that it has survived as long as it has.
However perhaps most of all, we should be grateful for the long playing record, without which we might not have known that it ever existed at all. And RVG for being there to record it all.
I suspect jazz musicians come out fairly well against other music genres: rock, heavy metal , punk, and hip-hop all seem to take heavy casualties. The dead rock stars club seems to cover just about everybody, however you have to say with “rock stars” premature death seems part of the lifestyle.
My favourite writing on the subject was the poem by one of the ’60’s Liverpool Poets, Roger McGough, who for the benefit of posterity I cite here in full:
Let Me Die A Young man’s Death
“Let me die a young man’s death
not a clean and in between
the sheets holywater death
not a famous-last-words
peaceful out of breath death
When I’m 73
and in constant good tumour
may I be mown down at dawn
by a bright red sports car
on my way home
from an all-night party
Or when I’m 91
with silver hair
and sitting in a barber’s chair
may rival gangsters
with hamfisted tommy-guns burst in
and give me a short back and insides
Or when I’m 104
and banned from the Cavern
may my mistress
catching me in bed with her daughter
and fearing for her son
cut me up into little pieces
and throw away every piece but one
Let me die a young man’s death
not a free from sin tiptoe in
candle wax and waning death
not a curtains drawn by angels borne
‘what a nice way to go’ death
I laud the sentiments, all very ’60’s. “Mind, how you go”. McGough is still active writing. Personally I think I’d like to hang on a bit longer too, so much more music still to hear, and collect.
Question to you: Which artists early departure left the most unfulfilled promise, and which artists, living or departed, do you think have made the biggest contribution to “modern jazz”? You can nominate as many as you like, up to three or four, OK, twist my arm, five.
Not every jazz musician has been included, the choice has been a personal one by Rodrigo, his charts, his favourites. Thanks again Rodrigo. .