RUBY, LOUIS, BUCK, ME (1954, 1983, 1989, 1996)

Ruby Braff, December 7, 1980. Photograph by Michael Steinman

Ruby Braff, December 7, 1980. Photograph by Michael Steinman

Ruby Braff remains one of my heroes: brave, curious, exploratory, full of lyrical warmth in his music — and one of those people I had many opportunities to observe between 1971 and 1983, at close range, in New York City.

Here is something new to me and I think absolutely remarkable — an interview with Ruby, done August 18, 1989, at the Newport Casino.  Ruby is remarkably patient with a somewhat inept questioner, but the subject is Louis Armstrong, so Ruby was very happy to speak about his and our hero:

Ruby despised his earlier recordings — and said so often, loudly and profanely.  I have no idea if he would have winced and swore at this one, but I am safe from his anger, so I present the 1954 Vanguard session (thanks to John Hammond) that paired him with Buck Clayton, Bennie Morton, Buddy Tate, Jimmy Jones, Steve Jordan, Aaron Bell, and Bobby Donaldson.  The shift into 4 / 4 at the start is one of my favorite moments in recorded jazz.  And the song is, of course, also.


Much later, in 1996, Ruby created a gorgeous and irreplaceable Arbors CD, BEING WITH YOU, in honor of Louis and of Ruby’s recently-departed friend, the great reedman Sam Margolis. Along with Ruby, there were Jon-Erik Kellso, Scott Robinson, Dan Barrett, Jerry Jerome, Johnny Varro, Bucky Pizzarelli, Bob Haggart, Jim Gwin.  Ruby gave everyone a spot, and the results are glorious. And if you didn’t know what a magnificent singer he could be, savor LITTLE ONE.

I apologize for the intrusive advertisement that begins the final two videos:


And my own Ruby story, very brief and elliptical.  I had followed Ruby around with cassette and reel-to-reel recorder, with notebook and (once) camera — so much so that my nickname was “Tapes,” as in “Hey, Tapes!” — from 1971 on. This was not embarrassing to me; rather, it was an honor.

He played a concert at the New School with Dick Hyman early in 1983, and I, recently married, asked my new wife to come along.  She did not particularly like jazz, but it was a novel invitation and off we went.  We sat down in the middle of the auditorium — early, as is my habit — and I looked around for Ruby.  Surely, I thought, I could make eye contact and he would come over, exchange pleasantries, and I could not-so-subtly suggest to my new bride that I was Someone in this jazz world.  Ruby emerged from somewhere, and I stood up.  Perhaps I waved to catch his eye, or said, “Hey, Ruby!”  He looked at me, grinned, and pointed a forefinger.  “You!” he said.  “I remember you when you were in diapers!”  That was not the effect I had hoped to create, so I sat down and the deflated encounter was over.  He played beautifully.  As he always did.

Ask me about lyrical improvisation, and I might play you this as a glowing exemplar.


I miss Ruby Braff, although, like Louis, he is always with us through his music.

May your happiness increase!


8 responses to “RUBY, LOUIS, BUCK, ME (1954, 1983, 1989, 1996)

  1. Sordoni III, Andrew

    Ah, Michael, such profound memories. We presented Ruby and Dick in concert in 1984, Michael Moore was in the audience and probably has as many Ruby stories as anyone. Michael’s first recording, with Ruby, George Barnes and Wayne Wright, was for Chiaroscuro. You might find Michael a worthy source for Jazz Lives. Regards, Andrew. P.S. We will attend Steamboat Stomp thanks to your notice.

    Sent from my iPad

  2. I look forward to saying hello in person. Do you have contact info. for Michael Moore, one of the great artists? . . .

  3. Joseph P. Veltre

    Loved his 1957 album “Hi-Fi Salute to Bunny” with Pee Wee Russell, – especially his rendition of “Downhearted Blues”. Very lyrical solos. Wish it was out on CD.

  4. I never heard this version of ” Love is just around the corner ” before , it certainly wasn’t with the original *Vanguard recordings we all knew — am I right in this ? Date: Sat, 5 Sep 2015 13:58:20 +0000 To:

  5. I’ve seen it on CD, perhaps reissued by Mosaic or in Japan. Check Amazon / eBay?

  6. Dear John, there was a Vanguard 10″ called BUCK MEETS RUBY with four songs by just this band: LOVE, KANDEE, JUST A GROOVE, and I CAN’T GET STARTED. Some of the best small-band jazz ever. Then, when Vanguard started issuing 12″, they called the new one BUCK MEETS RUBY and added a Mel Powell session with Buck, Ed Hall, Henderson Chambers, rhythm including Jimmy Crawford . . . S’WONDERFUL, I MUST HAVE THAT MAN, IT’S BEEN SO LONG, and one other. It wasn’t the Vic Showcase or the Jo Special, but it was certainly one of the early Vanguard sessions. Worth looking for!

  7. Don "Zoot" Conner

    Thanks for giving your shout-out to an almost over-looked master,Ruby Braff.I saw him at George Wein’s STORYVILLE about 1960-62.Didn’t catch him again until the 90’s at a little club in Portsmouth N.H.I spent my years in the apple listening to “modern” cats and forget the traditional cats.Shame on me.By the way, if you have or had Sam Margolis,you heard Pres.

  8. Ruby on Pops, “…we were lucky to be in his time-space…”


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