NICHOLAS DENUCCI, 94, on Sept. 9 in Keene, New Hampshire. In his 20s, Nick DeNucci was the pianist for Glen Gray and his Casa Loma Orchestra where he was a bandmate of Bobby Hackett and Herb Ellis. He claimed that in those days the band charts were written in pencil so changes could be made easily. In the 1950s, he was the featured pianist for the 36 hotels in the Sheraton chain. He gave drummer Joe Morello his first professional job and was Judy Garland’s accompanist when she worked the summer theater circuit. “You don’t just play the notes,” he was quoted as saying. “You play the song,” of which he had nearly 3,000 memorized.
TIM BELL, 75, on Oct. 18 in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Bell was an in-demand reedman and professor of music at University of Wisconsin-Parkside from 1975 through 2009, a specialist in jazz. He taught countless students, founded the Parkside Reunion Big Band in the early 1990s, and performed with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, touring Broadway shows, Milwaukee’s Skylight Opera Theatre and national headliners including Aretha Franklin and Harry Connick Jr. He played his final concert in Racine as part of the Racine Concert Band the night before he suffered a fatal heart attack. He also hosted a Saturday night radio show, Classic Big Bands and Beyond, on WGTD-FM 91.1. “The ‘beyond’ lets me flip out and play anything,” he said.
ANTOINE “FATS” DOMINO, 89, on Oct. 24 of natural causes in Harvey, Louisiana. Known for his rollicking piano style, he was one of the biggest stars of rock-and-roll in the 1950s and one of the first R&B artists to gain popularity with white audiences. His biographer argues that Domino’s records and tours in that decade brought black and white youths together in a shared appreciation of his music and contributed to the breakdown of racial segregation in the United States. The artist himself did not define his work as rock-and-roll, saying, “It wasn’t anything but the same rhythm and blues I’d been playin’ down in New Orleans.”
His 1955 song, “Ain’t That a Shame,” was a Top-10 hit, and “Walking to New Orleans,” “Blueberry Hill.” and “I’m Walkin’” were among his three dozen Top-40 hits. Sales of his records topped 65 million, of which 23 attained Gold status. During this period, he was on the road 340 days a year, and his concerts grossed over $500,000. While his net worth exceeded $8 million, he lived unpretentiously in the Lower 9th Ward of his native New Orleans until Hurricane Katrina devastated his home. He stopped touring in 1995, and his last public appearance was in 2006.
He was among the first inductees into the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame. The National Medal of Arts and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award were among the many honors he received throughout his career.
WENDELL EUGENE, 94, on Nov. 7 of pneumonia in New Orleans, Louisiana. Eugene was one of the most respected and longest-serving trombonists in traditional New Orleans jazz, performing at the Palm Court Jazz Cafe and local festivals as recently as 2015. At that time, he was the oldest active jazz musician in New Orleans. He served in the Navy during WWII, and in 1943 backed Louis Armstrong in a USO show. After the war, Eugene toured with the Lucky Millinder and Buddy Johnson orchestras.
He worked as a New Orleans letter carrier from 1949 through 1979, but remained active in the musical life of the city. A skilled sight reader, he taught trombone at New Orleans’ Grunewald School of Music and continued to perform at night and on weekends. He scheduled vacation time so that he could tour with the Onward Brass Band, the Olympia Brass Band, the Tuxedo Brass Band, and Andrew Hall’s Society Jazz Band.
At 91, he was still performing regularly. He recorded his final album as a bandleader, If I Had My Life to Live Over, at age 90.
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