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Joe Muranyi, Armstrong clarinetist, dies at 84

Joe Muranyi, who was bandleader Louis Armstrong's last clarinetist and became a leading ambassador in the effort to preserve the traditional jazz sound on records and in concert, died April 20 at a hospital in Manhattan. He was 84.

He had congestive heart failure and bladder cancer, said his wife, Jorun Hansen.

Muranyi, a vivacious player and raconteur, spent more than five decades as a fixture in New York's Dixieland and vintage-swing scene. He liked to recount that Armstrong, upon meeting him in 1967, couldn't pronounce his Hungarian surname. Muranyi suggested that Armstrong say it like the 1920s blues singer Ma Rainey. "He broke up laughing, he never forgot it," Muranyi told Armstrong biographer Ricky Riccardi. "A lot of cats in the business call me, 'Hey, Ma Rainey!' "

As a young man, Muranyi studied with such modern improvisers as pianist Lennie Tristano, but he remained joyfully defiant in his musical tastes. His passion was on the exuberant and melodic traditional jazz pioneered by Armstrong.

By his teens, in the 1940s, Muranyi was sitting in at Jimmy Ryan's New York nightclub with the New Orleans trumpeter Bunk Johnson. He subsequently worked with some of the finest traditional jazz musicians of the era.

Muranyi was most remembered for his association with the Louis Armstrong All-Stars band. He joined the band in 1967, after the death of Armstrong's clarinetist, Buster Bailey.

The clarinetist said he avoided the mercurial bandleader's rages by his eager attitude and by his spry playing of even the most shopworn Armstrong repertoire.

He remained in the All-Stars until Armstrong's death in 1971, at 69. He remained a freelancer until retiring in 2010.

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