Ron Carter: The Right Notes, Alright
The more the band played together, "the more outrageous it got. Every night was a chance to play some new music. And some wonderful music. And if it didn't work, we knew we had one more chance to try and get it right. Tomorrow night's coming up. Let's worry about tomorrow night. None of us were thinking along the lines of the band having the reputation it ultimately got. I think we were all trying to find a way to make the notes we heard function. Can we make this music have a life? [Davis] was as surprised as we were with the results. We took chances. We took turns steering him somewhere."
Carter is quick to state that Davis was excellent to work for and a good friend, "and I miss him dearly." Stories of the "evil" Davis don't resonate with Carter. "I never saw those events take place. So I'm kind of out of the loop as far as a person who can say this happened or that happened. I don't know those situations people talk about." And silly criticisms, like Miles turning his back to the audience, "That's so he could hear the band better. That seems like a reasonable way to do it."
The bassist is comfortable that the stint with Davis solidified the careers of those in the band. He also knows his talents brought him there and his talents have sustained a superior career beyond that time. "Yes, I was there. Yes, I had a great time. I look forward to seeing Miles upstairs in the sky, trying it again."
After that gig ended, Carter's phone was ever ringing. He has done countless studio sessions and appeared in nightclubs in innumerable settings. It could seem, for a time, that he was in a constant rush from one session to another. "But it was all fun. I got a chance to play some wonderful music with some strangers and wonderful music with some people I was familiar with. I was always surprised that people in different industries would know that I existed. When you're making music, you're just kind of making the music. I wasn't keeping track of the records I made or who I made them with. Just a chance for me to find out how this bass worked. I'd find a set of notes that would attract attention in a positive way ... I thought I had the right kind of sound in my ear. My job was to try to make that sucker work, man."
Carter has never hurt for work. It's not because he feels he is in some upper echelon. But he understands his abilities and is confident in himself and what he has to offer. Carter is realistic when he looks at where he fits on the scene and he stands by his beliefs.
"I always felt that given the choices that these producers and bandleaders had to assemble a group, they would feel my input would make their project successful. That was enough for me. I didn't worry about not getting called or someone else getting a gig. I'm still not there. I trust that I played the best I could and if it wasn't satisfactory enough for whoever the bandleader was to call me back a second time, I feel good I played the best I can do. If it wasn't what he's looking for, that's his choice. I never got bent out of shape or envious or jealous [losing a gig] because I knew I was going to practice, to try to find something else to do. I never got to that zone. I never got bitter or hostile or mad. I knew I had some notes that were waiting to be discovered. My job is to see if I can find them. You can't find them if you're angry, man."
Carter has been involved in jazz education for many years and it still gives him great pleasure. He's taught at other major jazz schools besides Julliard and was artistic director of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Studies at one time. He realizes that the changes in the music industry are drastic, but isn't sounding any alarms. The young men and women coming out today are familiar with the Internet. They know social media like Facebook and Twitter. They can produce their own CDs. They know about operations like Kickstarter or ArtistShare, where artists get the public to help them raise money for their productions. All those things are alien to a great many older musicians, but not to those coming onto the scene. "So they're not so much in the wind as people would like to think. They aren't at so much at a loss as to what to do," says Carter.
One thing remains the same as it did 50 years ago and more.