Tuesday, August 21, 2018
“The Gibbs bands combined the high-energy swing of Lionel Hampton with the sophistication of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis outfits (Mel Lewis straddled the drum stool during Gibbs's most productive period).”
-Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.
As a working musician based in Los Angeles, CA during the heyday of the East Coast Jazz versus West Coast Jazz marketing nonsense which was aided and abetted by Jazz critics and record companies on both coasts, I can honestly say that I never felt deprived living 3,000 miles away from The Jazz Capital of the World [aka New York; aka Birdland].
In terms of the number of Jazz clubs, Hollywood was not the equal of New York, but it had its share. And, although, you had to access them by freeways without the benefit of subways, car rides to the Beach Cities [Santa Monica, Long Beach and Hermosa Beach] and to the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys brought forth contact with a plethora of neighborhood bars and bistros that featured Jazz played by both nationally recognized groups and homegrown talent.
Musicians such as guitarist Joe Pass, tenor sax and flutist Charles Lloyd, pianist Keith Jarrett, bassists Charles Mingus and Herbie Lewis and drummer Billy Higgins first came to prominence on the Left Coast [aka Los Angeles].
Los Angeles also had its “exclusives,” groups that didn’t tour and could only be heard at local venues. In many cases, this was because the musicians that made up these small combos and big bands were also heavily engaged in movie and television work or in providing the music for TV commercials and radio jingles and they couldn’t afford to be away from such lucrative employment for long periods of time.
Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All-Stars, which over the years featured many notable Jazz musicians including Shorty Rogers, Jimmy Giuffre, Bud Shank, Frank Rosolino, Stan Levey [and for a time, Max Roach], and Victor Feldman, could only be heard at the Hermosa Beach club from which it drew its name.
And the big bands led by vibraphonist Terry Gibbs, Gerald Wilson and trumpeter Don Ellis were for the most part populated by studio musicians who simply couldn’t afford to go on the road.
I felt particularly blessed to be able to take in large amounts of what came to be known as the Terry Gibbs Dream Band. All three of the Hollywood venues that the band played at were a short drive from my home so I was in constant “residence” at this “big band university” for almost two years.
The following piece by John Tynan was written in December, 1962 which sadly was around the time that drummer Mel Lewis left for New York to join Gerry Mulligan’s Concert Jazz Band. Bassist Buddy Clarke and trumpeter Conte Candoli would join him.
Sadly, too, the clubs on Sunset Blvd. referenced in the article began to close in 1963 and were all but gone by May, 1964 when lead alto saxophonist Joe Maini accidentally shot himself.
Terry moved on to other things and especially following Joe’s death, the band was but a memory.
Following John’s article you’ll find a video of the band playing Al Cohn’s composition The Big Cat with solos by Terry on vibes, Joe Maini on alto sax and Conte Candoli on trumpet.
“CAN RECORDINGS alone make a successful band? Almost any self-styled sage in the music business will assure you that this is virtually impossible because a band, in order to be a going concern, i.e., a consistently paying business, must work on the road, must hit the one-nighter grind most of the year in order to get the public exposure that can build a national reputation.
The sages may be right, and certainly the success on records of such leaders as Hank Mancini has nothing to do with a permanent Mancini orchestra of the one-nighter variety. But in a more limited way the Terry Gibbs big band is a recording success, too, and so far as the vibist is concerned, his albums keep the spirit of the band alive.
Spirit is the key word here. It has to do with the roaring jazz produced by Gibbs and 16 others when they assemble on a bandstand for an occasional club engagement or concert.
It is certain that jazz spirit, captured in the Gibbs albums, thundered out of the grooves so dynamically it compelled the voters in Down Beat's 10th annual International Jazz Critics Poll to elect the band to first place in the new-star category this year. What is remarkable is that the majority of the critics who voted for Gibbs' band did so without ever hearing the band in person. All they had to go on were three LP albums — Launching a New Band, Swing Is Here, and The Exciting Terry Gibbs Big Band. The few critics who did hear the band in person dug it on its own stomping ground, Hollywood, or perhaps at the 1961 Monterey Jazz Festival.
Pickings are lean in Hollywood for a big band. Thus has it been, of course, since the early 1950s. As has been pointed out on many occasions in the past, a big band cannot expect to remain on the West Coast and make it. This is particularly true of a big jazz band. So the miracle of the Gibbs band's endurance is only partially touched by economic considerations; the real secret is wrapped up in the words spirit and loyalty — the general jazz spirit of the musicians and their loyalty to the idea of this big band.
In the beginning there was a seemingly prosaic domestic decision: Terry Gibbs and his wife, Donna, decided to settle down in California. He bought a suburban home with swimming pool in the San Fernando Valley and from time to time sallied forth with his quartet for engagements in the East.
It had been Gibbs' practice, under his recording contract, to record one big-band album a year. These sessions were made with studio musicians, and the arrangements generally were the first-class work of such as Al Cohn and Manny Albam. It was a nice musical arrangement for Gibbs; he could record and work night-club and concert jobs with his quartet, commanding top money, and then, for kicks, he could cut loose and indulge his real love for big-band jazz.
If the quartet led to the big studio band on record, it led also to the formation of the presently existing aggregation. Gibbs recently recalled the origin.
"A movie columnist friend of mine, named Eve Starr," he said, with his staccato, machine gun delivery, "called me one day in 1959. She told me about this club in Hollywood. Place called the Seville. She said the place was dying and the owner wanted to change the policy. He really didn't know whether he wanted jazz; he wanted anything that would bring customers into the joint. Eve suggested I go talk to him. His name was Harry Schiller."
Gibbs talked to Schiller and signed a contract to work the Seville with the quartet. At this time he was preparing his annual big-band album. He already had a dozen arrangements and planned to cut the LP in Hollywood with a top-notch personnel.
There was the problem of rehearsal. Musicians union rules prohibit unpaid rehearsals for recordings but permit a band to rehearse for a night-club job.
"I made Schiller a proposition," Gibbs said. "I asked him if he'd let me take the big band into the club Tuesday night only for the same amount of money as the quartet was getting. Schiller said it was okay with him if the quartet did business. If the quartet brought in some customers, he said, he didn't care if I brought in a band of apes on Tuesday. So we were set."
The rehearsals began, and it was immediately evident that, in the Hollywood musicians, Gibbs had a group unlike any of his previous studio big bands.
The weekend prior to the band's Tuesday one-nighter, Gibbs did a guest appearance on the Sunday night Steve Allen Show. Allen gave him a hefty plug.
During the next two days an unprecedented telephone campaign added word-of-mouth publicity to the debut. The forthcoming event—for it had indeed become an event— was literally the musical talk of the town.
The band's opening was a sensation. In the jammed Seville, scattered through the audience, was a remarkable celebrity turnout. Among those who attended were Fred MacMurray and June Haver, Johnny Mercer, Stuart Whitman, Ella Fitzgerald, Steve Allen, Dinah Shore, and Louis Prima. The turnout of musicians was unparalleled.
By the end of the evening it was a foregone conclusion that the band would play the following Tuesday too. In a week, those who had not heard the word in time for the debut were ready to come and dig. The second Tuesday was as successful as the first. And so, for nine consecutive Tuesdays the new Terry Gibbs big band made West Coast jazz history.
The fact that the band began that first set with the knowledge that there were only 11 more numbers in the book didn't matter to Gibbs and his men.
"We just kept an arrangement going for 10 or 20 minutes," Gibbs grinned. "With long solos and different backgrounds made up by the guys in the sections, it was no problem."
By the second week, Gibbs recalled, other arrangers, such as Bill Holman and Med Flory, had contributed arrangements to help expand what probably was the smallest big-band book in jazz history.
In retrospect, Gibbs noted the band could perhaps have continued indefinitely at the Seville on Tuesdays had he not received an offer to take it into the now-defunct Cloister on the Sunset Strip for three weeks. He accepted the offer and the owners' proviso that the band must not play any other Los Angeles location on the night off.
The Cloister engagement was a mistake. For one thing, the room was too small. For another, the customers, who largely came to hear singer Andy Williams and laugh with comedian Frank Gorshin, who shared the bill with the Gibbs band, were not prepared for the shock of hearing the band at full throttle. From Gibbs' point of view, the engagement was less than successful.
By now, Gibbs was obsessed with a desire to keep his band working and exposed to a growing following. Morale in the band was possibly unprecedented.
'The guys made a rule," Gibbs said. "Nobody takes off for another job. If a guy did, he was out of the band. And this they did for $15 a night!"
It wasn't long before Gibbs found a new home for the band. This was a club also on Sunset Blvd., called the Sundown, where the band began working Mondays and Tuesdays every week. Soon after, Sunday nights were added.
With time out for a fortnight at the Dunes Hotel in Las Vegas, Nev., the Gibbs band remained based at the Sundown for 18 months. Las Vegas was as far east as it ever traveled. For that engagement, Gibbs said, the band was paid $5,000 a week; by the time all the expenses had been settled, he wound up with $111 at the close of the job. "But," Gibbs added, "it was worth it. We had Jimmy Witherspoon with us at the Dunes, making it even more of a ball."
While Gibbs concentrated on building the band, his bank account took a heavy beating.
"I had to give up so much work with the quartet," he explained, ''that I figured it was costing me $1,000 a month to keep the band going. In all, I had to give up about $20,000 in work with the quartet. During the previous years, when tax time came around, I always had to come up with additional money for Internal Revenue. The one year I had the band working steady, I got back a check for $1,100 from the government.
"But I've been in this business 31 years, and I've never been so happy losing money in my life."
ALTHOUGH THE BAND presently is without a home or any reasonable facsimile of steady work, Gibbs refuses to abandon his idee fixe. He has almost 100 arrangements in his library at present, and the albums will shout on. The latest, Explosion, on Mercury, will be released shortly.
Meanwhile, the "guys in the band"—Gibbs refuses to use the term "sidemen"—are standing by in Hollywood, most of them busy with studio work, while the vibist tours with the quartet in the East.
"I must work with my little group," he insisted. "I love working with the quartet. Eventually, I want to have a quartet within the big band but not made up of some of the guys in the band. A separate group.
''And I'm looking for a singer. Probably a girl singer. And I don't know yet what I'd like her to sound like—but I'll know when I hear her.
"I'm going to see what I can do with the big band in the East. Then, if I see something promising, I'm going to call Mel Lewis and the rest of the guys. Of course, it depends on the money I have to work with, so it's very hard to predict what'll happen."
Gibbs' "guys in the band" constitute a unique group in that they are, to a man, musicians skilled in the most exacting studio work, and most derive their livelihoods therefrom, yet they retain a genuine jazz freshness both as individuals and as a unit.
"It's a fun band," Gibbs said. "For example, during our first few tunes of the evening, when the place isn't crowded, the guys applaud one another when they play solos. It's like a ball club. When a player hits a home run, he gets a pat on the back. It's that way in the band."
Mel Lewis, the time-keeping cornerstone of the Gibbs band, made the following flat statement: "This is the greatest swing band I ever played in."
"It saved my life, musically," the drummer continued, "and the same goes for the rest of the guys."
"Who was hiring big bands to work in L.A. clubs," Lewis asked rhetorically, "before we went into the Seville? Since then, several big bands have worked clubs in L.A., but we were the only band that did any business in a club. We started the big-band era in Los Angeles."
Gibbs outlined the most important ingredients in a musically successful big jazz band.
"A drummer!" he explained. "A good drummer to hold the band together. All the great bands had great drummers —Basie had Jo Jones; Tommy Dorsey had Buddy Rich; Woody had Dave Tough.
"And then a good lead trumpet player. These are the guys who sort of run the band. They lay the time down for the band.
"We have a very great brass section. Four of the trumpets play lead—Ray Triscari, Al Porcino, Frank Huggins, and Stu Williamson. And Conte Candoli, along with Dizzy Gillespie, is the best big-band jazz trumpet player.
"Three of the trombones play lead. Frank Rosolino, Vern Friley, and Bob Edmondson keep everything going."
Of the lead alto man, Joe Maini, Gibbs cannot sing enough praises: "Point to Joe — for anything — and he can do it beautifully. Jazz or lead, doesn't matter."
Rounding out the sax section are tenor men Bill Perkins and Richie Kamuca; Charlie Kennedy, second and jazz alto saxophone, and Jack Nimitz, baritone saxophone.
In the rhythm section are pianist Pat Moran, for several years leader of her own quartet; bassist Buddy Clark, who with drummer Lewis toured with the Gerry Mulligan big band during the last two years; and Lewis, who, according to Gibbs, "holds any band together."
Whenever it's necessary to substitute because of illness or other Acts of God, Lou Levy generally gets the call for the piano chair; Frank Capp or Larry Bunker on drums (and the Bunker-Gibbs vibes duets on occasion have been memorable); Johnny Audino, Jack Sheldon, or Ray Linn in the trumpet section; and Bill Holman, Teddy Edwards, or Bud Shank in the saxophones.
Why, in Gibbs' opinion, did the jazz critics vote for a band that is (a) non-full-time and (b) whose appeal outside Los Angeles-Hollywood lies wholly within the grooves of long-play records?
"On the strength of those records, I would think," he said. Then he added, "If they liked the band on the albums, they would like it 20 times better if they heard it in person."
November 8, 1962
The following Playlist features four selections by this once-in-a-lifetime band.
The following Playlist features four selections by this once-in-a-lifetime band.
Monday, August 20, 2018
© - Steven A. Cerra - copyright protected; all rights reserved.
Ronnie Cuber was born in New York in 1941. Ronald Edward Cuber made his debut in the late 1950’s in trombonist and music educator’s Marshall Brown's Newport Youth Band at the Newport Jazz Festival. Locating the above photograph of the band in a 1959 edition of Down Beat prompted me to revisit Ronnie’s career and his music.
In the following decades Ronnie worked with Jazz and Latin Jazz masters like Slide Hampton, Maynard Ferguson, George Benson, Lionel Hampton, Woody Herman, Barry Harris, Lonnie Liston Smith, Eddie Palmier! and Lee Konitz. Over the years, Ronnie Cuber earned a reputation as one of the best baritone saxophonists in Jazz and is often mentioned along with Gerry Mulligan, Nick Brignola and Pepper Adams as being among the best players on that instrument.
Cuber not only received recognition for his achievements on baritone sax, but also as an excellent flute and clarinet player.
In 1976 he joined the legendary Frank Zappa, along with Jazz funk luminaries Michael and Randy Brecker. He appeared on dozens of pop recordings as a sideman, meeting the needs of artists like Aretha Franklin, Eric Clapton. Paul Simon, Bette Middler, Chaka Khan and many more. During the eighties he was a member or the Saturday Night Live Band.
Nowadays, Ronnie Cuber continues to be one of the busiest baritone saxophonists on the contemporary Jazz scene working with the prestigious Mingus Big Band and Horace Silver, as well as touring worldwide with artists like Steve Gadd and Joey DeFrancesco.
In an interview Ronnie gave for the insert notes to his 2009 Maxanter CD Infra-Rae: Ronnie Cuber Meets the Beets Brothers  he was asked:
“You have always played different styles of music like jazz, pop and latin. Do you recommend young players to do the same.”
To which Ronnie replied: "Yes, I recommend it. There's all kinds of stuff happening. It seems to melt down into the jazz scene. Like in the 1970s with what Joe Zawinul and Weather Report did. It became the norm. When l am writing music, I also use different style elements. I play all kinds of different music.”
And when Ronnie was asked: “What is your opinion of contemporary Jazz,” he answered:
"Smooth Jazz has developed to a point where it is definitely more listenable than it was some years ago. The musicianship is much higher in groups like Fourplay with Bob James and Everette Harp. But while it is very good, it still doesn't compare to the people I was raised on: Hank Mobley, Art Farmer, Horace Silver, Rav Charles, Art Blakey. Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie."
Recorded in The Netherlands in 2009, Infra-Rae: Ronnie Cuber Meets the Beets Brothers shows the then 68-years-of-age Cuber more than holding his own with the likes of the much younger Beets [pronounced “Bates”] Brothers: Alexander on tenor sax, Peter on piano and Marius on bass. The drummer on the date is Eric Ineke and here’s a portion of what Eric has to say about Ronnie in his autobiography Eric Ineke The Ultimate Sideman [Pincio Uitgeverij, 2014, The Netherlands]:
The first time I played with Ronnie was in 1977 and I was totally blown away by the sound, swing, phrasing and energy produced by this man. He is like Hank Mobley on baritone, a small wonder if you realise that he started out on tenor. The phrasing, just a little behind the beat so typically Mobley and, also like Hank, a very emotional player. His timing is awesome and he plays with such an authority. … He burns right from the start and he is so strong that he gets you where he wants you to be, Hardcore Be-bop. The drummer has to play on top but relaxed. You have to follow him; he is not following you, although he wants interaction. If he wants to burn, you’d better be there, otherwise he is losing you.”
The following audio-only digital music file features Ronnie and the Beets Brothers’ blistering interpretation of Hank Mobley’s Infra-Rae.
Sunday, August 19, 2018
© - Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
When Gordon Jack, the author of Fifties Jazz Talk: An Oral Retrospective and frequent contributor to Jazz periodicals such as JazzJournal “dropped by” the JazzProfiles editorial offices with an offer to post the following feature about one of our favorite Jazz musicians, how could we refuse?
Baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber is one of the most emphatic and constant take-no-prisoners improvisers in all of Jazz and, like another of our enduring heroes, Phil Woods, he seems to take every opportunity to create powerful and passionate solos, whatever the context.
Gordon’s piece on Ronnie first appeared in the March 2014 edition of JazzJournal and you can locate more information about the magazine by going here.
© - Gordon Jack/JazzJournal; used with permission; copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“Like many specialists on the instrument the baritone was not Ronnie Cuber’s initial choice from the saxophone family. Performers like Sahib Shihab, Lars Gullin, Cecil Payne, Leo Parker and Gary Smulyan are just a few who began with a brief dalliance on the alto before making the switch to the larger horn but Cuber’s musical odyssey was a little different. Born on the 25th, December 1941 into a musical family he began on clarinet before changing to the tenor in high school which he continued studying at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music.
He took up the baritone almost by accident when he tried out for Marshall Brown’s Newport Youth Band in 1959. At the audition he played Hank Mobley’s four choruses from his 1956 Prince Albert solo which really impressed Brown. Unfortunately there was already a surplus of tenors so Brown bought him a baritone at Ponte’s Music Store near Times Square - long since closed. That generosity allowed him to join the band which included Eddie Gomez, Nat Pavone and Michael Abene. During his formative years in the ‘50s he had collected recordings of the major hard bop artists like Hank Mobley, Sonny Rollins John Coltrane and Pepper Adams. Inevitably Adams became a strong baritone influence but it was not too long before he found his own unique voice with perhaps more than a little bow to Sonny Rollins and Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis.
After leaving the Newport Youth Band he went on the road with Slide Hampton, Maynard Ferguson, Lionel Hampton and Woody Herman. He also worked for a while with Jack McDuff at Harlem’s Hotel Theresa. He achieved a particularly high profile as a soloist in 1964 when he joined George Benson who had brought his popular organ trio with Lonnie Smith from Pittsburgh to New York. Organ groups often included a tenor but as Ronnie said a few years later, “It was different to have a baritone in the front line. I was getting more solo space and much more freedom than I’d had playing in the big bands and I kind of stood out.”
John Hammond who was Columbia’s Director of Talent Acquisition heard them one evening at the Palm Tavern in Harlem. Thoroughly impressed he arranged two recordings for the label in 1966 – The George Benson Cookbook (Columbia CK 52977) and It’s Uptown (Columbia CK 52976). Cuber is clearly in his element performing Benson’s down-home, blues-based repertoire which also includes staples like All Of Me, Willow Weep For Me and A Foggy Day. Incidentally, at this early stage of his career it is noticeable how close Benson gets to the sanctified vocal sound of Stevie Wonder. Ronnie continued to work with Smith and Benson and their 1970 Blue Note release – Lonnie Smith Live At Detroit’s Club Mozambique - can be recommended (CDP 7243 8 31880 2 4).
In the early ‘70s he began an association with Aretha Franklin and her musical director the soul tenor giant - King Curtis. He also had a close musical relationship with Eddie Palmieri which inspired a love of Latin music that was to become such a hallmark of his performances in later years. This was a period when Disco was King and Ronnie who also played bass clarinet and flute was often working seven hours a day in the New York studios. Achieving a first-call status he became such an important part of the recording scene there that he was voted the Most Valuable Player by the Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS) from 1979 to 1986.
In 1976 he recorded his first album as a leader – Cubre Libre – on the Xanadu label (No.135). It has never been reissued on CD but it is a stunning debut heralding the arrival of a major new performer with fresh looks at Star Eyes, Misty an atmospheric Tin Tin Deo and especially Kenny Dorham’s Prince Albert. The latter with its patented Bird of Paradise introduction is based on All The Things You Are and together with Lennie Tristano’s Ablution is probably the finest of all the originals inspired by Jerome Kern’s classic.
He was a member of Lee Konitz’s cerebral nonet regularly working with them at Stryker’s, the Half Note and the Village Vanguard and after the leader he is the most heavily featured soloist on The Lee Konitz Nonet (Chiaroscuro CRD 186),Yes, Yes, Nonet (SteepleChase SCCD-31119) and Live At Laren (Soul Note 121069-2). In the early ‘80s he began working on the Saturday Night Live Show recording with the band in 1986 for the Projazz label (CDJ 621). His baritone gifts continued to be very much in demand on sessions with Carly Simon, Steely Dan, Paul Simon, Eric Clapton, Billy Joel and Frank Zappa. He excelled whatever the environment but always as a self-proclaimed “bebopper at heart”.
The ‘90s was when he began a series of recordings as a leader beginning with Cubism for Fresh Sound in 1991 (FSR-CD188). The line-up features Joe Locke (vibes), Bobby Broom (guitar), Michael Formanek (bass) and Ben Perowsky (drums) who had all worked with Cuber at Birdland. The wide ranging repertoire reflects the many moods of this fascinating album - exotic Afro- Cuban rhythms on Arroz Con Pollo and Barra-Cuber; straight- ahead blowing on I Ronic (Cuber on a borrowed tenor); a James Brown R’n’B feel on Cheetah and finally the sensuous rhumba setting of Ponta Grossa – one of Cuber’s most arresting originals and worthy of something Johnny Mandel might have written.
His next session in 1993 – The Scene Is Clean - is essentially a Latin date with either Manolo Badrena or Milton Cardona added on percussion to a four man rhythm section. The title track by Tadd Dameron was introduced by Lucky Thompson in 1953 but Clifford Brown recorded the definitive version with Max Roach in 1956. Through the miracle of over-dubbing we also hear Ronnie’s alto on Clean and Fajardo which he plays with the elegance of a Benny Carter or Herb Geller. He also revisits Flamingo – Earl Bostic’s big 1953 hit which is a perfect vehicle for his rugged baritone sound (Milestone MCD -9218-2).
Two years later he was again in the studio for one of his finest recordings – In A New York Minute (SteepleChase SCCD 31372). The piano, bass, drum accompaniment is the ideal setting for Cuber especially when the pianist is the admirable Kenny Drew Jnr. Kenny who often worked with him has an especially brisk work-out on Dig based on that old war-horse Sweet Georgia Brown which he concludes with a chorus in octaves. New York Minute is one of several highlights. Based on a simple eight bar descending sequence repeated throughout its six minute duration, it develops an irresistible feeling of exquisite tension. The well named Con Passion has all the dramatic intensity of an operatic aria allowing Ronnie to demonstrate his amazing facility and powerful sound in the altissimo register.
He began a long association with Charles Mingus’ music in the early ‘90s when he appeared on The Mingus Big Band ’93 CD (Dreyfus FDM 36559-2). His arrangement of Nostalgia In Times Square aka Strollin’ Honies begins with his own hip, Jack Kerouac-style monologue describing how he first sat in with Mingus at Birdland as a youngster. Moanin’ opens with his baritone in the role of a gospel preacher at a revival meeting with vocal encouragement from the band, before he launches forth on that unforgettable theme. Performances like these are surely what tenor man John Stubblefield had in mind when he said, “(Ronnie’s) a pit bull when he and that horn connect”.
In 1996 he was featured with a group of all-stars on Horace Silver’s Hardbop Grandpop CD (Impulse! IMP11922). Any recording featuring ten new Silver compositions has to be an event and this date was one of the finest from that era. Four horns - Claudio Roditi, Steve Turre, Michael Brecker and Cuber - create a big sound in the tightly written ensembles and Cuber has several outstanding solo spots on The Hippest Cat In Hollywood, Gratitude, Hardbop Grandpop (our old friend Indiana in disguise), The Lady From Johannesburg, Serenade To A Teakettle and Diggin’ For Dexter.
The following year he launched the Three Baritone Sax Band together with Nick Brignola and Gary Smulyan with a tribute to Gerry Mulligan on Dreyus FDM 36588-2. It is mostly a programme of Mulligan originals plus titles associated with him like Blueport and Black Nightgown together with Cuber’s own Waltz For Geraldus. Although all three took their original inspiration from Pepper Adams the session works very well. As always, there is a hard edge to Cuber’s sound which is quite different to Gerry’s lighter, more ‘Lestorian’ approach. Mulligan rarely ventured into the bottom fifth of the horn when soloing but Cuber positively revels in the lower register which in his case extends down to a low C concert – a semi-tone lower than Gerry’s old Conn could reach
His memorable set with the Netherlands Metropole Orchestra is a personal favourite. Arrangers Rob Pronk, Jerry Van Rooyen and Jan Wessels have written sympathetic charts for the soloist with creative use of strings and woodwinds. It is an unusual setting for Cuber that works perfectly on a repertoire of songbook classics not usually associated with him like Brazil, Love For Sale, The Song Is You, I’ll Remember April and Speak Low. Incidentally, the sleeve note confusingly hints at two recording sessions eight years apart but Tom Lord opts for 1998 alone (Koch Jazz 3-6914-2).
His 2009 quartet date features Helen Sung (piano), Boris Kozlov (bass) and Jonathan Blake (drums) – all colleagues from the Mingus Big Band. It is an informal set including staples from the fifties like The Duke, Daahoud and Four (the latter rightly credited to Eddie Vinson and not Miles Davis) as well as a couple of fine Michel Legrand standards. There is also an amazing version of All The Things You Are which storms along at over 80 bars to the minute – probably not what Jerome Kern had in mind when he wrote it for the show Very Warm For May back in 1939. It is a credit to the artistry of all concerned that creativity is maintained at such a finger-busting tempo (SteepleChase SCCD 31680).
Later the same year he was reunited with Steve Gadd at the Voce Restaurant in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Challenge Records CR73326). There is a Ray Charles Let The Good Times Roll feel to this release and although they have recorded together a number of times, these relaxed performances are particularly noteworthy. Cuber is at his most extrovert especially on the opening Watching The River Flow by Bob Dylan. He had recorded it with Gadd in 1986 and with his huge, indomitable sound he takes his cue from the hard swinging accompaniment for a typically swaggering statement which includes a hint of Sonny Rollins’ Solid - a favourite quote. His uninhibited choruses on Sister Sadie and Back At The Chicken Shack call to mind an earlier baritone master – Leo Parker who is an acknowledged influence. Jimmy Smith’s Chicken Shack of course was popular with British R&B groups in the sixties. I know because I played baritone in one during a long residency at the 100 Club where we played it nightly – sometimes twice nightly.
Ronnie Cuber’s latest release was recorded in Berlin after a series of Italian bookings with the excellent Kenny Drew Jnr. (SteepleChase SCCD 31766). The group find an infectious groove on the opening Tokyo Blues which never lets up throughout the 62 minutes playing time of the CD. They revisit Cuber’s own Passion Fruit based on Summertime with an added bridge. The coda is an extended vamp or montuno creating an exciting Tito Puente feel to the performance. Arroz Con Pollo is one of Ronnie’s frequent excursions into Afro-Cuban territory with another montuno – an essential element of the idiom. Mark Gardner and I voted for this album as one of the best CDs of 2013 and Mark pulled no punches at the time when he called Ronnie “(the) best jazz bari on the planet.”
Ronnie Cuber who plays a Low A Selmer Mark V1 baritone should be far better known. He is without doubt one of the finest jazz soloists performing today - on any instrument.”
The following video tribute to Ronnie's long-time associate, Ed Palmieri, is set to Ronnie Cuber's interpretation of Eddie Palmieri's Adoración from his The Scene Is Clean CD.