Charnett Moffett, virtuosic and versatile jazz bassist, dies at 54

Charnett Moffett, the jazz bassist known for his virtuosity and versatility as both a bandleader and an accompanist, has died. He was 54.

Moffett died suddenly of a heart attack early Monday, April 11, according to publicist Lydia Liebman, who confirmed his death on Wednesday evening. He was with Jana Herzen, his wife of two years and musical collaborator of 12 years, at Stanford University Hospital in Stanford, Calif.

Born in New York in 1967, Moffett started out performing and recording with the family band in 1974, when he was only eight years old. He was the son of drummer Charles Moffett, Sr., and the younger brother of drummer Codaryl, singer Charisse, trumpeter Mondre, and tenor saxophonist Charles, Jr. He went on to study at Juilliard and was playing in Wynton Marsalis’s quintet by the time he was 16, playing with the trumpeter regularly in the mid-’80s.

Throughout his career, Moffett worked with an impressive array of iconic jazz musicians including Art Blakey, Ornette Coleman, Pharoah Sanders, Dizzy Gillespie, Dianne Reeves, Stanley Jordan, Wallace Roney, Anita Baker, Arturo Sandoval, Courtney Pine, David Sanborn, Harry Connick, Jr., Herbie Hancock, Joe Henderson, Kenny Garrett, Melody Gardot, Mulgrew Miller, McCoy Tyner, Sonny Rollins, Carla Bley and Tony Williams.

“It is his adventurous bass playing that enraptures his audiences: intoxicating solos and an artistry built on the shoulders of so many jazz giants,” John Devenish wrote in 2017.

Recommended Links

Moffett made his recording debut as a leader with 1987’s Net Man on Blue Note Records; the album featured Michael Brecker, Kenny Kirkland and Al Foster. He went on to release a total of 17 records under his own name; his last album was the trio/quartet recording New Love in 2021.

Moffett’s main collaborator later in life was Herzen, a singer, songwriter and guitarist and the founder and president of Motéma Music, the record label with whom Moffett released his final eight albums. The pair released multiple albums together and were married in February of 2020.

Moffett “had been struggling with bouts of intense pain from trigeminal neuralgia for the past few years,” according to Liebman’s statement.

“The family is in shock and devastated, but also thankful that he is released from the intense pain, and invites all his fans and loved ones to celebrate with them that his indomitable, vastly creative, high-flying and joyful spirit is now free to fly even higher and even freer in the place that is better by far where ‘no eye has seen, what no hear has heard, and no human mind has conceived’ (1st Co 2:9) that is the Kingdom of Heaven prepared by God Elohim,” Liebman wrote.

The family will hold a private memorial service in California. They are also looking into arrangements to honour Charnett’s musical and spiritual contributions with a ceremony in New York in late August or early September.