After you read this, visit roncarterjazz.com and click on “Performances.”
There, you’ll find all the upcoming concert dates for living legend Ron Carter — the Guinness world record-holder as the most recorded jazz upright bassist in history.
In this list of concerts, one date sticks out as a distinct — and ridiculous — anomaly. Sitting at the top of a list that includes a four-night stint at New York City’s historic Birdland Jazz Club and an upcoming 13-show tour of Europe (and previously four shows at Blue Note Tokyo in August) is a curious one: the Ron Carter Trio, Sept. 24, Oakland, Florida.
And then, perhaps the most shocking two words of all: Free tickets!
I realize most of you may not be familiar with the history of jazz. However, believe me when I say the term “living legend,” when applied to Carter, is not hyperbole. This maestro — who has performed on so many records that no one has an absolute accurate count (best estimate is north of 2,700 albums) — is one of the most influential musicians in the genre. A brief (and vastly incomplete) synopsis: He was a member of the second Miles Davis Quintet, which also featured Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Tony Williams. Other notable names: Thelonious Monk, Freddie Hubbard, Cannonball Adderley, B.B. King, Gil Evans, Lena Horne, Bill Evans, B.B. King, Dexter Gordon, Wes Montgomery and Bobby Timmons. Carter earned his first Grammy Award in 1998 for Best Instrumental Composition, a second in 1998 for Best Jazz Instrumental Group and a third this year for Best Jazz Instrumental Album.
And he’s coming to West Orange. For free. And it’s all through Joseph McMullen’s amazing HAPCO Music Foundation.
“Sharing the genius of Ron Carter’s music with our community is such an honor for HAPCO,” McMullen said. “This will be an amazing night of music from a true jazz great who has influenced the style since the early 1960s.”
And even if you’re not a jazz connoisseur, the opportunity to watch an innovator — a master — work in his chosen craft is one you should not miss.
Carter was born May 4, 1937, in Ferndale, Michigan, one of eight kids. And although he didn’t inherit his musical talent from his parents, they instilled a work ethic that still fuels him at 85.
“They had big influence on me growing up as a responsible adult, being able to understand responsibility and being kind to my fellow man,” Carter said. “(But) they were not involved with my musical career other than making sure I practiced and got to the lessons.”
Carter picked up the cello at age 11 but later switched to the bass. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the Eastman School of Music and then his master’s from the Manhattan School of Music.
Immersed in the New York jazz scene, Carter’s professional career began as some of the most influential and revered recordings in the genre were being made. But Carter said that notion — that they were creating history — never entered their minds.
“We were having a good time playing with our dear friends, whoever they happened to be on that particular date,” he said. “We had a chance to play music with some wonderful people every night when our instruments came out of the case. I’m completely surprised about the influence those records still have today.
“I’m not sure any of us realized we had a place in the evolution; music was changing,” Carter said. “We were not looking down the line in terms of this record or these events as historical landmarks, like the rings in a tree trunk. We were looking forward. Can we do (to develop) last night’s idea or the last chorus rhythm we stumbled on? Can we develop those ideas right now and not worry about next month?”
Perhaps more than any other genre of music, jazz is an in-the-moment conversation among the musicians. For Carter, that conversation starts long before the first down beat.
“That starts with each one member of that group … having respect and understanding that there’s someone next to them who is trying to play some really nice music,” he said. “You need to help them reach that goal. That’s always the undertow of these conversations. At the top of the list is, ‘How was your day?’ ... Let’s try to figure out the off-the-bandstand conversations, so we can see that we’re on the same page.”
Carter takes pride in his stamina — his ability to play multi-set gigs with energy, passion and expertise. In other words, he wants to be the last man standing.
“I want to be able to steer the band the way I think the music is demanding it goes,” Carter said. “And to do that, you need the stamina, you need the concepts, you need the skill level, you need the determination and the daring to be able to put yourself in that position to accept that kind of responsibility. To make that work, you need to be the last guy left.”
In 2021, two different nations honored Carter for his lifetime of achievement and contributions. The French Minister of Culture awarded him the medallion and title of Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters. Then, the Japanese government awarded him The Order of the Rising Sun — for his musical contributions to relations between Japan and the United States.
“Other-worldly,” Carter said of The Order of the Rising Sun. “I think when we go to work every night and play this music, we’re not so focused on the parameters this music covers. We’re just playing for the people who are at the first table off the bandstand to the left or for the couple who walked in a little bit late but will stay to the last note. We’re playing this music because we hear these sounds, and we hope that there’s someone out there who tunes in to what these sounds mean. ... In this case, the Japanese people seemed to be tuned into jazz players’ attempts to make music be meaningful. And this honor is the first one given to an African American … and that’s quite an honor for me.”
Ever the gentleman — he likes to end his conversations with the words, “Love you” — Carter said the sweetest fruits of his career are the chances he has had to make someone else’s life better.
“I get a little embarrassed when I hear the things I am credited for doing,” Carter said. “I’m just happy to have made someone’s life easier, giving someone another view of life that they would not have had, perhaps, if we had not talked. … Just happy to have made someone’s life not so traumatic, and I kind of groove with that.
“I just heard a sound, and I tried to find it,” he said. “I’m still looking.”