Ron Carter reflects on his musical mission in a new PBS documentary

By | October 25, 2022

Straightforward, authentic and no filler – that’s a good way to describe Ron Carter, the tall and eloquent elder statesman of jazz.

For many musicologists, he is considered one of the greatest virtues – if not the greatest of Goat – upright acoustic bass. According to Guinness World Records (Carter is quick to tell you that the list is hundreds short), he is the world’s most recorded bassist, holding more than 2,200 records.

For all his accomplishments, a new documentary on his life has Carter a little underwhelmed. “Ron Carter: Finding the Right Notes,” which premieres Friday on PBS, took six years to film.

“I only watched the trailer for a few minutes, and I was so embarrassed when they were talking about me,” Carter said. “’Man, they’re talking about me!’ I was like I’m not there yet.”

Produced and directed by Peter Schnall, the two-hour documentary is a love letter to Patience Carter, spanning nearly seven decades of his career.

Carter was nearly 80 years old when he began work on the documentary, but she has not been in constant motion for more than 60 years, making countless appearances and thousands of recordings. The production team had to be flexible in filming the episodes to catch Carter at the right time, because still the jazz master could be on any stage or in the recording studio from New York to France to Japan. The word “permanent” does not fit in his repertoire.

Ron Carter working at Bass Hits recording studio in New York

Carter’s meteoric rise began in the early 1960s with one of the most legendary ensembles in the genre’s history: the second Miles Davis Quintet. In his mid-20s at the time, Carter’s work with Davis helped propel jazz forward, along with piano wizardry of the young Herbie Hancock, the late drum prodigy Tony Williams and legendary saxophonist Wayne Shorter.

He says the title of Carter’s documentary is appropriate for his approach to art and his life in general.

“Notes are very important to what we do,” explains Carter. “Notes do what we do. Sequences of notes do a lot of things that come in the form of songs; come in the form of chord progressions; come in the form of developing skills. These notes are the essence of what we need. It’s like Jell-O without gelatin. It’s like getting plain water. Gelatin is the water in the box. It keeps and thickens the water. It is as important as milk for a cow, so to speak.

For musicians working deliberately at the top of their form, Carter continues, they must strive to find a certain note — or a particular note — that gives the music a particular value or “emotional impact.”

“And every now and then we’ll find that note. But there are also groups of those notes, and whatever combination I come across makes the song unique.

“That whole record, it’s full of notes that make that record special,” Carter says. “Now, I got some. I want more every night.”

Ron Carter playing in Stockholm

Admired the world over for his musicianship, wit and creativity, Hancock says Difference A comprehensive film survey of Carter’s extraordinary life is long overdue. When they started playing together in Davis’ band, Carter’s ability to tap into his musicality instantly stood out, and he wasn’t afraid to throw the band around by trying new things. That style of playing helped push them both into then-uncharted musical territories.

“Ron Carter is like a blood brother to me,” Hancock says. “He’s very giving and he’ll do it for you. He just likes people like me. He likes to play and interact with people.

“It’s a pleasure to be able to offer what you’ve created, because we’re innovators,” Hancock continued. “We can take what’s written on the page and adjust it as we see fit at the time. And that, in itself, is a creative process…things change from moment to moment and we’re all reacting to what’s going on around us. That’s part of the greatness of Ron Carter.”

Jazz guitarist Pat Metheny believes Carter has forged a unique path in music that deserves international acclaim.

“There is no more important musician on the planet right now than Mr. Carter,” Meaton said, praising his “incredible legacy and range” as well as his humanity.

“It’s hard to define this range,” Methen says. “We’re talking nearly seven decades of performing with thousands of musicians, not just because he’s performed the broad spectrum of modern music, but what he’s brought to those endless encounters has, without fail, powerfully changed the outcome of music. Invariably for the better. It’s made every musical situation and the musicians around him better.”

Although at first there was no doubt that he would become a jazz musician, Carter’s voice was sought after by the Who’s Who of music. Aretha Franklin, A Tribe Called Quest, Paul Simon, Jefferson Airplane, Roberta Flack and Erykah Badu are among the many artists who have collaborated with him on recordings.

“It always amazes me that I’m on so many different musicals,” Carter said. “New York always has great bass players for their projects. But somehow they decided this jazz bass player would be good for our record. Now why are you deciding that? i don’t care. My job is, if I understand what they’re trying to do, ‘Can I help make their dreams come true?’ Can I help them record things they wouldn’t have been able to do without me?’

As “Ron Carter: Finding the Right Notes” delves into his professional life, the film gives us an unprecedented glimpse into his personality as a family man, friend, teacher and generous man.

Jazz star John Batiste and “Finding the Right Notes” director-producer Peter Schnall alongside Ron Carter

Jazz guitarist Russell Malone is familiar with Carter’s various facets, having toured with him on and off since 1995.

Malone spoke fondly of his relationship with Carter: “He’s a no-nonsense guy.” “Don’t come to Ron on the bandstand with any bullshit or nonsense. Now, having said that, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a good sense of humor. His sense of humor is amazing. “

Describing Carter’s humanity and gentleness to others, Malone recalls a performance with his band in Istanbul, along with a young pianist from Mulgrew Miller. Miller joined the tour after recovering from a stroke.

“We were at soundcheck and we were going over a tune we’d played countless times,” recalls Malone. “Mulgrew arrives at a quick passage in a melody written for piano. Before the stroke, Mulgrew was tearing it up like nothing, but after the stroke, his facility was somewhat diminished.

Miller kept trying but eventually he took his hands off the keys and started crying.

“He couldn’t play this passage anymore and started scratching like a little baby. Ron Carter put down his bass and walked over to the piano where Mulgrew was sitting and hugged Mulgrew.” says Malone. “He held him in his arms like a parent would raise a child. Not a word was said. It was just a powerful moment. It’s a side of Ron Carter that most people don’t get to see. Yes, he’s a tough guy, but he has these caring qualities that I’ve been privileged to see.”

Always an ambassador for jazz, fans of Carter’s music can still catch him on stages around the world. But the maestro admits he may put travel on hold and focus more on his online company, RonCarterJazz.com. The website offers online courses, instructional books on bass playing, and classic performances and other treats.

Carter sees his role as a teacher as being involved in a different cylinder in the engine that drives him on the path to greatness.

“I think I’m a great teacher,” Carter says. “I have students who really blossom with my watchful eye and big stick. But I think this is an important way to teach music to grow. If I can be part of a tree needle that helps jazz do something, like influence someone to play bass instead of baseball, then I’m done.

Category: tv

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