At 85, Jazz Bassist Ron Carter Is Still ‘Looking For A Better Layout’


One morning on the Upper West Side, bassist and bandleader Ron Carter was sitting at the far end of a plush rust-colored sofa in his spacious 10th-floor apartment, an oak-colored space with ornate statues and panoramic views of the bustling city. Neighborhood blocks below. A soft melody was played in the background by Antônio Carlos Jobim, a Brazilian multi-instrumentalist and former collaborator. The place radiated a magnificence that also spoke of the man. A jazz legend, Mr. Carter, it’s no surprise that Maestro Carter lives on. here.

With more than 60 albums as bandleader and countless other albums as a side musician, and more than 2,220 recording sessions to his credit, Carter has long let his music do the talking. He seemed attentive during our conversation, resting his head with his right fist and looking away as he answered questions. But this April day, he had something special to discuss: a career-spanning show with his own trio, quartet, and eighth at Carnegie Hall on Tuesday. To celebrate his 85th birthday.

“He’s as honest as an arrow,” said holy pianist Herbie Hancock, who met Carter on a phone call at Miles Davis’ home in 1963. They were playing tunes in what would become the trumpeter’s Second Big Five. “Miles played a little bit, then honked his horn on the seat and went upstairs,” he added. “But before that, he told Ron to take over. He targeted Ron to do it because he knew Ron could do it. Ron is a bullshit guy.”

Carter grew up a prodigy in the Midwest in a family that played instruments but was not musical in his own right. “Most Black people in their 40s and 50s, families had some sort of communal bond at home before television and everything took over,” she said. “There was always someone playing the piano, there was a choir singing in the house, normal African-American ensemble house music.”

When a teacher who started the orchestra put the instruments on the table, he picked up the cello at the age of 11 and said “it came to my mind” and played it until he got to high school. However, he realized that despite being told how talented he was, he did not have the same opportunities as white students. High school orchestra members were sometimes asked to play background music for dinners and PTA meetings—everyone except Black students. In 1954, Carter saw the orchestra’s sole bassist graduate. He turned to the instrument as a way to stand out.

Discrimination followed him to the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, where Carter played bass in the orchestra: visiting conductor Leopold Stokowski, who at the time directed the Houston Symphony, loved Carter as an actor and person, but that Texas wasn’t progressive enough. told. having a black musician in the orchestra. So Carter started playing at a local jazz club called the Red Creek Inn, working as the de facto bass player for musicians passing through town.

“They said I played really well and they thought if I went to New York I could get a job there,” Carter said. After graduating in 1959, he moved to the city and began playing in a band led by drummer Chico Hamilton while graduating from the Manhattan School of Music. He received his master’s degree in 1961 and released his first album “Where?”, which also featured alto saxophonist Eric Dolphy and pianist Mal Waldron.

“I wanted to paint a picture of what I could do,” Carter said of her first LP. other than Charles Mingus and Oscar Pettiford, bassists were not seen as bandleaders; Realizing his own vision was a rebellious act. “Overall, the bassists weren’t paying attention to the details everyone else was getting,” he said. “I thought, ‘This is my chance to do what I think is my point of view. I took advantage of that.” At the same time, her star rose on the New York stage; In 1963 he was perhaps the hottest young talent in town. This The coolest jazz supplier in the area and possibly the world soon called in.

Carter was a freelance musician with folk and blues singers and played at a club concert with trumpeter Art Farmer. Davis’ group was heading to California for a six-week tour, which meant that Carter would have to leave Farmer’s group. Other musicians were likely to leave to play with the star trumpeter, but Carter – out of disrespect for Farmer – didn’t budge so easily.

“I said Mr. Davis, I already have some business with Mr. Farmer for the next two weeks,” Carter recalled. “If you ask him to kick me out of my gig, yes. If not, we’ll see you when it’s over.” Farmer allowed the young bassist to tour with Davis. “Because I gave him the respect he deserved,” she continued. “I think it showed Miles that I’m a man of my word, a man of honor.”

While at Davis’ home and on the road, Hancock was drawn by Carter’s tone and intuition. “He had the mindset of someone who kept discovering and trying new things,” he said. “His play was clean, clear and precise, and he was always in the right place in his pocket. He knew which way to go to make it not just an exciting listening and playing experience, but one that opened up new possibilities.”

The group lasted five years and broke up in 1968 when Davis sought an electric sound that combined rock, funk and ambiance on albums such as “In a Silent Way”, “Bitches Brew” and “On the Corner”. But the Second Great Quintet and artists like Carter, Hancock, tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter and drummer Tony Williams don’t get these recordings without pushing Davis’ music into uncomfortable places. “Every night was a chance to play great music with some lovely people,” Carter said. “I still look back in wonder at what we did, not realizing what happened, but it worked for us day and night.”

Even as the popularity of jazz gave way to funk as the dominant genre in Black music, Carter continued to thrive. He taught jazz at the City College of New York, worked as an associate at the Blue Note and CTI record labels, and has credits in everyone from Roberta Flack and Gil Scott-Heron to Lena Horne and Archie Shepp. Carter also embraced hip-hop later in his career and performed on A Tribe Called Quest’s second album, “The Low End Theory.” (He hadn’t heard of the band, but one of his sons recommended that he do the séance.) “The surprise of the music” kept him going, he said.

Bassist Stanley Clarke met Carter as a teenager in 1970 and admired Carter’s consistency on the instrument. “It’s kind of like the center of a concentric circle,” Clarke said in a phone interview. “He controls pretty much every band he goes to. On every record I hear playing, the first thing you go is bass.”

He said Carter was the pinnacle of great bassists before him—Mingus, Pettiford, and Paul Chambers—who threw out great tones from the instrument and paved the way for someone like Carter to synthesize it into something more melodic and melancholy. “Everything is guided and merged in this person,” Clarke said. “There isn’t a bass player here today who is aware of the bass sound who hasn’t been influenced by Ron Carter.”

While Carter is willing to discuss the past, he can’t help but focus on the future: his upcoming gigs and making sure he’s always improving.

“Can I find a better grade line that I couldn’t find last week?” He asked.

His devotion to his bandmates is always remembered. “Can I be responsible for the standard I set for them?” he continued. “Can I make them see how responsible I am for the music I present to them?”

“I’ll make sure to let them know that I appreciate their love and care,” she added thoughtfully, looking out the window. “I’m still better at doing what I’m doing now.”

Celebrating 85th birthday “For the Love of Ron” with Ron Carter and Friends, on Tuesday at 20:00 on the Perelman Stage of Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall; carnegiehall.org.



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