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Ron Carter: A Clew of Worms

Jim Worsley By

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So the saying goes, the early bird gets the worm. Occasionally, if one is so fortunate, you can get a whole lot more.

From the beginning just knowing that I was going to have the opportunity to see and hear Ron Carter play was about seeing a legend. Of course you hope to hear some good live music. But it isn't every day that you are in the presence of a true jazz icon. Now 80 years old, Carter has had a storied career as a double bass master and is a member of an elite class of jazzmen. To this day he is perhaps best known as being part of the second great Miles Davis Quintet along with Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams, and Wayne Shorter. Anchoring that classic quintet put Carter on the map. He has now stoically graced the jazz world for over 60 years.

Having played with a staggeringly impressive list of jazz players, he is the most recorded jazz bassist in history. In addition to the aforementioned, Carter has recorded or played live with the likes of trumpeters Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, Chet Baker, Donald Byrd, and Art Farmer and saxophonists Joe Henderson, Stan Getz, Grover Washington Jr., Benny Golson, Coleman Hawkins. The list also includes pianists Red Garland, Horace Silver, McCoy Tyner, Chick Corea, and Hank Jones as well as guitarists Wes Montgomery, Jim Hall, Bill Frisell, and George Benson The list goes on, as I haven't even mentioned the likes of Eric Dolphy, Milt Jackson, Jimmy Smith, Billy Cobham, or Roy Haynes.

As it turned out, the live music at the Catalina Jazz Club in Hollywood CA that night wasn't good. It was well beyond that. Flanked by guitarist Russell Malone and pianist Donald Vega The Ron Carter Trio weaved through some rhythmic tunes that were both stylish and elegant. Elegance is a word I will use again in describing the appearance and manner of the trio. Their adornment of handsome black tuxedos set a tone of refinement from the outset. Their tightly blended grooves fit as well as their suits. Carter's imposing stature as a man (he is 6' 5"), musician, and leader were evident. His subtle nuances and resonant tone gave his band mates quite a foundation to work with and feed off of.

Malone offered a lyrical balance and fluidity that made for a perfect fit. He was expressive yet controlled in his approach. Clearly unconcerned with performing some unnecessary speed romp, he instead was beautifully coherent in measuring what fit and added to the overall combined sound of the trio.

The versatile Vega was crisp and definitive. He was beautifully subdued and inventive at the same time. He added a unique Latin element to the mix. To be clear, they were not playing Latin Jazz. There was, however, a hint of that flavor at appropriate moments that worked well when softly and adroitly worked in to the mix.

Hours before this, I had arrived well early at the venue with my only intent being to get a good seat to be able to enjoy the Ron Carter Trio. Upon arrival, I was the first person standing in line by the usually locked door. A few minutes passed, and I started to hear the band doing a sound check. After a few more minutes, a man came up and opened the door. He was looking for a meeting of some kind and quickly walked away after realizing he was in the wrong place. Being the "quick study" that I am, I determined the door was still unlocked. I just had to take a peek. The club was empty aside from the casually dressed (pre tuxedo) Carter, Malone, and Vega. They were straight in front of me across the room. It didn't seem right to walk in. Still I was glued to the spot listening to what was now more of a rehearsal than a sound check. I stood in the doorway with the door 90% closed behind me. I figured someone would come along and shut the door on me eventually but I might as well enjoy it for a few minutes.

An hour had now passed as a few employees bustled around the room. They either didn't notice, or didn't care, that I was there. Mind you, I was quiet and respectful, but still figured all along that my time was limited. Instead, the hour wasn't really so much a rehearsal either. Playing songs in their entirety, it was pretty much two thirds of the concert to come. I got a whole clew of worms, as I had my own private show! This was an early bird special for the ages.


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