This review also serves as a tribute and an obituary for a marvelous jazz cornetist. Ruby Braff died on February 9, 2003 in North Chatham, Mass., at age 75. The cause of death was given as "complications related to emphysema and asthma." The cornetist, born in Boston on March 16, 1927, said that his major influence was Louis Armstrong. He had no formal education beyond high school; he said that he attended "Louis Armstrong University." Braff was an outspoken and diffident person. Friends said that you always knew where he stood on a particular issue, sometimes even when you didn't want to know.
Braff's performances on the cornet were always immaculately crisp. Whereas some brass players aim for higher and higher notes, his particular style was to explore the rich lower register of the cornet. Baraff, in quoting Jelly Roll Morton, once said, "Music should be played at a conversational levelyou can't shout a conversation."
Braff was honored at the Arbors Records "March of Jazz" in Clearwater, FL in 2001. At that time he played wonderfully well but was obviously not in good health. This Arbors CD is the 14th in a series featuring Braff. He is accompanied by master pianist Dick Hyman, 7-string guitarist Howard Alden, and veteran drummer Jake Hanna. This disc was recorded at the Nola Studio in New York City on September 12, 2001 under considerably stressful conditions because of the attack on the World Trade Center.
Watch What Happens features two Braff originals: "Here's Carl" and "Frankly," by Braff and pianist Jane Jarvis. "Here's Carl" is an up-tempo tune which doesn't seem to strain the cornetist in the least. "Frankly" is a lovely ballad sung by soprano Darryl Sherman, the only tune where she is featured. "Shadowland," a composition by Charles Tobias and Dick Hyman, was inspired by a Bix Beiderbecke solo on Frank Trumbauer's 1927 recording of "I'm Coming Virginia." This tune also features a guitar solo beginning on the bass string of Alden's 7-string guitar, plus a quiet melodic piano solo by Hyman.
The other jazz standards, Fats Waller's "Handful of Keys," Irving Berlin's "Slumming on Park Avenue," Cole Porter's " It's All Right With Me," Harold Arlen's "Over The Rainbow," and Harry Wood's "What a Little Moonlight Will Do" are all presented in a distinctive manner. For example, Rodgers and Hart's "The Blue Room" starts with a boogie piano and the group presents "What a Little Moonlight Will Do" as an up-tempo tune rather than a slow ballad.
As with Braff's other performances, he gives his all to Watch What Happens. This recording makes a fitting finale to a long, successful career. Ruby Braff will be missed!
1, Handful of Keys
2. Slumming on Park Avenue
3. It's All Rigth With Me
4. Watch What Happens
6. Here's Carl
7. We'll Be Together Again
8. The Blue Room
10. Over The Rainbow
11. What a Little Moonlight Will Do
Ruby Braff-- cornet/ leader
Dick Hyman- piano
Howard Alden--7 string guitar
Jake Hanna- Drums
Darryl Sherman-- Vocals on "Frankly"
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