Tag Archives: Jim Gwin

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.

LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER:

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:

LITTLE ONE:

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.

ONE HOUR:

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

May your happiness increase!

 

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“JUST DO SOMETING BEAUTIFUL”: NEW MUSIC from RUBY BRAFF

Although the singular cornetist Ruby Braff has been gone since 2003, his music lives on.

It seems particularly alive on the previously unissued 1998 New York sessions that have just been released on Arbors ARCD 19426 as OUR LOVE IS HERE TO STAY.

Four extended tracks (LINGER AWHILE, ALL MY LIFE, DAY IN, DAY OUT, and I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA) feature Ruby with Chuck Wilson (alto and clarinet), Howard Alden, Jon Wheatley (guitars), Marshall Wood (bass), Jim Gwin (drums).  I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW adds Scott Robinson (tenor) to this; ‘DEED I DO, CLEAR WATER (Ruby’s composition on LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME CHANGES), a medley of WHAT IS THERE TO SAY and OUR LOVE IS HERE TO STAY, and a medium-slow DARKTOWN STRUTTERS’ BALL add Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet) as well.

Ruby’s playing is superb, free from some of the irritable-sounding harmonic “adventurousness” he embarked on when he felt restless.  Here he is among dear friends from Boston and New York, and his  comfort is tangible.

Although Ruby never played a phrase that didn’t have Louis standing in back of it, the atmosphere here is so thoroughly Basie-inflected that I was always waiting for a piano chorus.  Long, loping lines at swinging tempos, gently intense melodic embellishment . . . a celebration of swing, with riffs blossoming behind soloists, Ruby shaping performances as only he could.

Only those who saw Ruby in person or on video will understand that he was perhaps the finest on-the-spot arranger — a three-dimensional instantaneous musical architest — that most of us will ever know.

The rhythm section is a model of generous, seamless subtlety — and the soloists float over it.  Ruby is both passionate and amused (you hear his playfulness in the neat quotes and riffs; you hear his soul in his melodic lines).  Scott Robinson’s tenor is based in Lester but with Scott’s inimitable sideways manner of perceiving the world; Chuck Wilson’s lemony sound suggests Pete Brown and Lester on clarinet, and then there’s Kellso.

Ruby is one of his heroes but Jon-Erik is always his own man, his sound shifting from deep and pretty to growly in an Eldridge mode.  Ruby didn’t like sharing the stage with other trumpeters and often did it under duress, but when he did (with Roy on a wonderful RCA session, EASY NOW) he sounded exquisite.  Both Ruby and Jon-Erik sound as if they are thriving on the propinquity, the emotional teamwork.

These sessions have the freedom and inventiveness of Ruby’s best work, and the CD is a rare gift (made even better by attentive, loving notes from Ruby’s bio-discographer Tom Hustad, whose BORN TO PLAY is scheduled to be published this year.

My title comes from something Ruby said at the second session: it could have been his life’s motto.

You’ll want this CD.