It's not surprising that Tony Bennett, as well as the late Frank Sinatra, was a fan of the cornetist Ruby Braff (1927-2003). Like those singers, Braff had a life-long affair with the canon of (mostly) American songs known as pop standards. And like them, Braff brought fine-tuned musicality, craft and consummate artistry to interpreting that canon. He also brought a conspiratorial intimacy to his performances, as though he was letting you in on some special nuance or secret that only his parsing of the melody could reveal.
This album brings us Braff's final studio recordings, done in June 2002. But if this is Braff's swan song, it's a decidedly triumphant one. He's joined by the father-son guitar team of Bucky and John Pizzarelli, along with John's trio cohorts, brother Martin (bass) and pianist Ray Kennedy, plus drummer Jim Gwinn. Although he shares title billing, the CD notes make clear that Braff was in charge, using hand signals to direct the solo order, ensemble sequences and picking the tunes. An in-studio chorus of fans and friends adds a vocal chorus touch to the title track.
There's camaraderie among these musicians, not least in the easy rapport of the collective swing anchored by Bucky's rhythm guitar. Suave, heartbeat tempos predominate, with Braff's extremely vocal approach to tone and phrasing suggestive of a soft-shoe dancer or saloon singer. John Pizzarelli (who adds vocals on two tracks) sings only the verse of "As Time Goes By," but if you know them you can hear the lyrics when Braff plays the melody. He sings through his cornet and when not intoning melodies he engages in conversations with the others, often singling them out for a duet (with bass on "Lulu's Back in Town" and with Bucky's guitar on "I Didn't Know What Time It Was"). It all makes this album an exemplar of jazz at its most convivial.
Ruby Braff: cornet; Bucky Pizzarelli: guitar; John Pizzarelli: guitar; vocal (tracks 8 & 9); Ray Kennedy: piano; Martin Pizzarelli: bass; Jim Gwinn: drums and The Oo-La-La Singers (track 5): Rachel Domber; Daryl Sherman; Adam and Dan Morgenstern; Al Lipsky; Gail and Ross Firestone.
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