Nat Jaffe was born on January 1, 1918, and died at 27 years, 216 days old on August 5, 1945. His early death was attributed to complications resulting from a case of high blood pressure, which might in turn have been caused by any number of things including alcohol or drug abuse. He was a black man in the days before integration and civil rights advances, the report may have been hasty, and without any other investigation there is no way to know for sure why he died at 27, as so many other musicians have. He was an early member of the club, and an early master of the jazz style known as swing piano.
Jaffe was fortunate to have been raised in Berlin, Germany, where he was trained classically on the piano and received a liberal and superior education, something most black children in America were not able to take advantage of in those times. In 1932 when he was 14 his family returned to the United States, and he began his career in the new sounds of swing music. A hybrid that sprung from ragtime and dixieland, swing became immensely popular in the middle part of the century and eventually became the big band genre, and Jaffe was considered a prodigy in the style. He performed as a soloist in the famous 52nd street area in New York City, which was the musical home of jazz giants like Louis Armstrong and later Miles Davis, as well as honing his talents with various small ensembles.
He was so in demand that by the late 1930s he was playing and recording with such luminaries as Armstrong himself, Billie Holiday, Jack Teagarden, and many others. He struck off on his own in the early 1940s with a trio, a form in which he was a pioneer, foreshadowing the later work of pianists like Errol Garner and Oscar Peterson. Perhaps the high point of his short career was reached in 1945 when, early in the year, he recorded some sides as an accompaniest for Sarah Vaughan. His death in the late summer of 1945 was a tragic loss for the world of music, and another pre-modern example of the mysterious phenomenon of the forever 27 club.
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