[Dixielandjazz] NAT HENTOFF ON RUBY BRAFF
drjz at bealenet.com
Fri Apr 11 17:49:23 PDT 2003
Nat Hentoff writes a column a few times every year in the Wall Street
Journal. The one about Charlie Parker was in the WSJ on 13 March 2003.
Stephen Barbone wrote:
>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.
>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
>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
>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
>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
>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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