Stephen Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Fri Apr 11 16:30:14 PDT 2003

Following is an April 9 Guest Editorial in The Wall Street Journal, by
Nat Hentoff about Ruby Braff. The last time Hentoff wrote for WSJ was
about Charlie Parker, many years ago. WSJ? Will wonders never cease. The
article is long, but beautiful.

Steve Barbone

At 14, playing clarinet before an open window at my home in Boston,
fantasizing about one day sitting in Duke Ellington's reed section, I
heard a gruff shout from a shot kid on the sidewalk: "You want to go to
a session?" As soon as I heard the kid, and impatient Ruby Braff,
creating singing melodies within melodies on his trumpet, I knew I'd
better start thinking about a day job. He was jazz itself.

Three years later, already a pro, Ruby was working at Izzy Ort's, a dive
next to the RKO theater where the big jazz bands were often booked.
Walking out of the stage door one night, Benny Goodman was drawn into
Izzy Ort's by the sound of a horn played by Ruby, standing on a box
behind the piano to hide his age. Goodman wanted to take him on the road
but Ruby's mother wouldn't hear of it. The kid had to finish school.

Born in Boston in 1927, her son immersed himself in jazz from the time
he was six, especially in the endless surprises of Louis Armstrong.
"This beautiful, bright orange sound came out of the radio", he often
recalled, "and I was in the Louis Armstrong University from which you
never graduate."

In 1956, Armstrong voted for Ruby Braff in the "New Star" category of
the Encyclopedia of Jazz Yearbook poll. By then, Mr. Braff was playing
the more intimate cornet, and it was Armstrong who told him to stop
using mutes. "What do you want to use those things for? Play with your
own sound."

In Boston, and then in New York, Ruby gained the respect of such classic
jazz originals as Pee Wee Russell, Buck Clayton, Vic Dickenson, Edmond
Hall and Ellis Larkins, before leading his own groups. When he met
Charlie Parker, he was surprised that this icon of modern jazz said he
liked his playing.. "I thought he was putting me on," Ruby told me,
"until I found out as we talked that he liked the same things in music I
did. He was very close to the blues and had beautiful melodic

Ruby's credo: "I believe in beauty, music that takes people to a
delicious place that they can't ordinarily get to in their own lives".
As for his sound, he said, "It looks like I'm playing a cornet, but when
I'm playing, I'm really thinking of a cello. Most people play three
times louder than they should. Music should be played at a
conversational level.

The english critic, Steve Voce said of Ruby: "Unimpressed by high notes
for their own sake, he opened up new depth in the bottom registers of
the instrument that others could not reach." Off the stand, Mr. Braff
was as independent as his music. He did not suffer fools - and most
other people - gladly. And because he would not compromise his music as
fashions in jazz changes, he never made much money.

But over time, in this country and particularly in England, he acquired
and held a growing audience. And he appeared on more than 200 LPs and
CDs. Shortly before he died of emphysema and other ailments at a nursing
home in North Chatham, Mass, on Feb. 9 he told his sister Susan Atran
that he regretted not having married and had children. He never thought
he had enough financial security to start a family. "Our family name
will die", he said.

"Ruby," his sister told him, "you reached so many people with your music
and you have made so many records, your name will live forever. How many
other people could say that.?"

Starting in 1993, he made many of the recordings that most satisfied him
for Arbors Records. (www.arborsrecords; 800-299-2930.com) a classic jazz
label owned by Matt Domber. "I've recorded for I can't count how many
labels, some here, some abroad, " Ruby told Charles Champlin of the Los
Angeles Times, "and Matt Domber gives me more freedom than I've ever had

Also enduring are "Ruby Braff and Ellis Larkins: The Grand Reunion" and
"Ruby and Woody Herman" on Chiaroscuro (www.ChiaroscuroJazz.com) Of the
Arbors sets, "Being with You: Ruby Remembers Louis Armstrong" reminds me
of a story that Mr. Braff's friend Jack Bradley, tells of when Ruby was
in a coma in the mid 1990s at Cape Cod Hospital.

For days, Ruby had not responded to anything. Mr. Bradley brought to his
room a cassette player and a tape of Armstrong singing "I'm In The Mood
For Love." It was a 1938 recording, not his renowned 1936 version of the
song. Mr. Bradley recalls: "About 10 seconds after Pops began singing,
Ruby slowly opened his eyes. I could actually see the color returning to
his face as he shook his head. 'That's a different take,' Ruby said, and
a few minutes later, fully awake, Ruby added, 'That's the second time
Pops has saved my life.'"

"When was the first time?" Jack Bradley asked. "The first time I heard
him" Ruby answered.

Like Louis Armstrong's, Ruby Braff's music will never date. As Mr.
Champlin wrote. "his style is so personal, distinctive and instantly
recognizable that it can only evoke Ruby Braff himself."

Yet the February 11 headline on his New York Times obituary was: "Ruby
Braff, an Old-style Trumpeter and Cornetist, 75." And the lead paragraph
described him as having "defied the odds by rising to fame in the modern
era with a resolutely old fashioned style." I can well imagine Ruby's
response in language that, as used to be said, would not be fit for a
family newspaper.

The day that obituary appeared, I was talking to Jim Hall, the world
class jazz guitarist, who shook his head in exasperation at what he had
also read in the Times. "Ruby has his own voice," Mr. Hall said.
"There's nothing old fashioned about playing beautifully like that."

In his last days, Ruby received messages from listeners in other
countries, and frequent calls from Tony Bennett, for whom he was a
soloist from 1971 to 1973. Bennett is no more "old-style" than Ruby
Braff. Ruby's mother used to say, "We don't know where we got him."
Louis Armstrong knew.


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