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As 2016 Winds Down, Remembering The Jazz Giants We Lost

Toots Thielemans onstage at the North Sea Jazz Festival in the Netherlands in 2005.
Rick Nederstigt
AFP/Getty Images
Toots Thielemans onstage at the North Sea Jazz Festival in the Netherlands in 2005.

2016 has been a time of great loss for music: Prince, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and Sharon Jones all passed away this year, just to name a few. The jazz world was no exception. Christian McBride, host of Jazz Night In America, joined NPR's Audie Cornish to discuss the lives and legacies of three jazz giants who we lost in 2016 — Toots Thielemans, Victor Bailey and Bobby Hutcherson.

All three musicians were known for unusual decisions that paid off. Thielemans was a jazz harmonica player who became known for crossover moments like his feature on the Billy Joel song "Have a Tender Moment Alone." Bailey, a jazz fusion pioneer, worked with pop artists like Sting, Madonna and Lady Gaga. And Hutcherson carved out a place in jazz history on an unexpected instrument — the vibraphone.

McBride recalls how Bailey made an immediate mark when he replaced the virtuosic Jaco Pastorius as bassist in the fusion band Weather Report. "Not only did he fill those big shoes, but he carved those shoes out to fit his own feet," McBride says. "Victor ... said, 'Hey, I'm here. This is my gig now, and you are going to love me.'"

As for Thielemens and Hutcherson, McBride praises their ability to break into the jazz mainstream on relatively unpopular instruments. "They were dedicated to melodies and beautiful chords and telling the story," he says. "And when you can do that, it doesn't matter what instrument you play."

McBride shared these and other stories about the late icons. Hear the full conversation at the audio link.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.