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:
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!