The granddaddy of the jazz bass world talks about his Detroit roots, gigging with Miles and film scoring
Exclusive interview with FBPO’s Jon Liebman
August 16, 2010
Ron Carter is among the most original, prolific and influential bassists in jazz. With more than 2,000 albums to his credit, Ron has recorded with many of music’s greats, including Tommy Flanagan, Gil Evans, Lena Horne, Bill Evans, B.B. King, the Kronos Quartet, Dexter Gordon, Wes Montgomery, Bobby Timmons and countless others. In the early 1960s, Ron toured with Jaki Byard, Eric Dolphy and Cannonball Adderley. From 1963 to 1968, he was a member of the classic and acclaimed Miles Davis Quintet.
Carter is the recipient of numerous awards and distinctions, including multiple Grammys and critical acclaim from The Detroit News, Downbeat magazine and the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences. Ron has been awarded the title of “Commander of the Order of Arts & Letter”s from the French Minister of Culture and, most recently, the Donostiako Jazzaldia Award at the San Sebastian Jazz Festival in Spain.
Ron has lectured, conducted and performed at clinics and master classes, instructing jazz ensembles and teaching the business of music at numerous universities. He has served as Artistic Director of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Studies and was a member of the music department faculty of The City College of New York, where he is now Distinguished Professor Emeritus. As a performer, Carter remains as active as ever.
FBPO: Tell me about your musical upbringing. How did you end up as a bass player?
RC: I played cello until my senior semester in high school, Cass Tech, in Detroit. I switched to bass in January of 1955.
FBPO: Was there a turning point in your life – a defining moment – when you realized you were going to become a professional musician?
RC: After hearing the Detroit Symphony Orchestra play a concert.
FBPO: It seems you’ve performed with virtually every notable jazz artist in the last half-century, in addition to having recorded over 2,000 albums. Can you share one or two experiences that stand out as being particularly special or meaningful to you?
RC: I’ve always treated each recording as a free lesson on how to organize the music, how to get the most out of the musicians and learning various ways of recording the instruments, so each session was important.
FBPO: How did you get the gig with Miles Davis?
RC: I was working with Art Farmer when Miles came by the club and asked me to leave that week for a tour with his new band. I told him to ask Art to release me from my commitment. Art graciously released me from his gig ad I joined Miles’ band two days later.
FBPO: Having performed all over the world, how would you characterize the audiences in different countries? For example, it’s often said that Europeans have a deeper appreciation for jazz than Americans. Do you agree?
RC: I’m not sure that the Europeans have a better understanding of jazz, but they certainly support it!
FBPO: A lot of people don’t realize that, in addition to being the consummate jazz bassist, you’re also an accomplished composer and arranger. You’ve even scored several motion pictures. Tell me a little about that side of your career.
RC: I’ve written and had recorded over 80 songs and I’ve written music for four major motion pictures. I also do the arranging for my own groups: the trio, the quartet and the nonet.
FBPO: What’s keeping you busiest these days?
RC: Wishing I was a race car driver!
FBPO: You’ve accomplished so much in your career, yet you still appear to have a lot of energy! What else would you like to do in your career that you haven’t already done?
RC: Still lookin’!