Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Ron Carter: Finding the Right Notes

Hi everyone,

I'd never heard of Ron Carter before I saw him at Bohemian Caverns a few years ago, but I could tell by just watching him walk up to the stage that this guy meant business. This guy was classy. Distinguished and statuesque in a suit with his upright bass, his Golden Striker band members, guitarist Russell Malone and pianist Mulgrew Miller, followed in similarly formal attire with matching ties and pocket squares. As soon as they started playing, we all knew we were in for a treat from master musicians.

Ron Carter often plays the bass with his eyes closed. It's no surprise how well he knows the instrument, being the most recorded bassist of all time. That's what makes his new biography, Ron Carter: Finding the Right Notes by Dan Ouellette, so engaging. I picked up my copy last May, when I last saw Ron Carter at Bohemian Caverns. During that set, he plugged the book, recommending we buy it so that he doesn't have to carry them around anymore. When I got home, I added my autographed copy to the pile of Books To Read on my bedroom floor. I picked it up again one night soon after and was surprised how quickly I was hooked.

Aside from learning about this impressive musician, I loved how author Dan Ouellette wrote and organized his story. A regular contributor to DownBeat magazine, it makes sense that Mr. Ouellette would write this book with magazine-like style. It's chronological, of course, but is also broken down by project or career turn. The chapters are divided into topical section and include surprising elements, like Ron Carter interview excerpts and event transcripts or first-hand accounts from fellow musicians about working with the bassist. For this life story, so many sources and perspectives are mixed in with the subject's own. If you're unfamiliar with Ron Carter or jazz history, this book is a well researched, comprehensive resource on the man, his work, and the times in which he's played. This book will bring you up to speed.

You can't help but marvel at Ron Carter's dedication, work ethic, and expertise when it comes to his craft. At 78, it's estimated that he's worked on up to 4,000 recordings. (No one has a full discography, not even Ron Carter.) Including his own work as a band leader and solo artist, he's played with everyone from Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock to A Tribe Called Quest and Bette Midler. He's performed commercial jingles and film scores, all while raising a family, earning multiple music degrees, teaching countless students, and playing gigs around the world. While reading this book, I suddenly recognized more names on local jazz schedules because of their association with Ron Carter. He gets around. Right now, he's gearing up for a European tour.

More than anything, I admire Ron Carter's passion for his life's work, which is evident on every page of this book. Even though I know nothing about playing the bass, his authoritative insight on how to play and care for the instrument intrigued me because everything he does stems back to his love for the music. Although a teacher and mentor to so many other musicians, Ron Carter is still exploring, learning, and looking for the right notes.

Live jazz is best experienced in person, so catch Ron Carter the next time he's in your town. In the meantime, here's a taste of The Golden Striker Trio, playing a Russell Malone composition called "Cedar Tree."

(YouTube Video: https://youtu.be/A3Sh0nba3mQ)


P.S. If you are interested in reading more of my book reviews, visit The Library page. You can also find a link to this page in the menu bar below the Melissa's Kitties blog banner.   

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