red lights


A master shows his backbone

Ron Carter Quartet
Pabst Theatre
Milwaukee, WI
Mar. 19, 2005
Ron Carter Ron Carter Ron Carter

Story by Matt Richter
Photos by Matt Schwenke

Fresh pressed suit coats and over-priced silk ensembles with dangling earlobe decor to match shuffle down gradual stairs to find their row, passing wine glasses half-filled with some obscure chardonnay to friends already seated. I unfold my chair and sit back against the plush red velvet cushion. Yellow pseudo-marble columns reach up several stories to the upper balconies, equally as packed with Brew City's well-dressed jazz hounds as the floor level. An empty stage serves up a shiny black grand piano, drum set, percussion stand laced with odds and ends, and a tipped-over bass. Hanging behind the stage, a large banner reads, "Hal Leonard Jazz Series," foretelling other jazz performances to come. After a brief perusal of the pamphlet in my hand detailing Ron Carter's illustrious 45-year career, I realized the prolific bassist about to take stage can hardly be confined to a part of any series, continuum or other.
Ron Carter Boasting over 2,500 albums, Carter is possibly the world's most recorded jazz bassist. With over four decades of accompanying such legends as B.B. King, Lena Horn, John Coltrane and Miles Davis, teaching bass, jazz and the business of music at countless universities, and earning a master's and several doctorate degrees from East Coast conservatories and music schools, Carter is undeniably one of the greatest jazz bassists of all time. His music is lauded as a jazz style in its own right; his technique is studied as near perfection. Both are dissected and discussed in his series of books, including Building Jazz Bass Lines and The Music of Ron Carter. His signature sound crosses artistic mediums including film, studio, radio and live performances. After 18 years of teaching, Ron Carter adds the title of Distinguished Professor Emeritus to his lengthy vitae, but still wraps himself around his weapon of choice for fan-packed venues around the globe.
A procession of four well-dressed artists, clad in matching suits, stroll to their instruments from stage right, one of them a head taller than the others. Introduced appropriately as, "one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time," Ron Carter bends down and grasps the neck of the stand-up, straightening it to its full height, nowhere near his own. His well-over six-foot frame supports lanky appendages. Cradling the bass in his long arms, fingers dwarfing the strings, his presence transforms the bass to a small cello.
Muffled banter between Carter's bass and the percussive trinkets picked up by Steve Croon lead into the full jazz sounds of a seasoned quartet, including Stephen Scott on piano and Payton Crossley on drums, and, for the next hour, trade off leading the dance on stage to the rapture of enthralled on-lookers lost in the years of talent pouring over the front of the stage. Smooth, slow piano play, backed by a subtle rhythm, grows into fast-tempo jazzy layers, each man bumping and moving to their own sound. After a brief break, the four re-emerge for another set, taking turns exhausting themselves and the crowd with unrivaled instrumentation, proving time and again their "master" status. Carter bends his performance from steady band backbone to startling frontman, his lengthy digits roaming the length of the bass, hunting for the location of his next sound, sometimes the strings, sometimes the bridge, always precise.
My appreciation for jazz was born one car ride with my Dad; he put a CD into the player, let track one play, and said, "This is the first song that made me love jazz. Listen." Les McCann and Eddie Harris, Compared to What. I thought I heard perfection that day. Several years and countless shows later, I realized I had. Saturday, I heard another side of perfection, Ron Carter's side. Witnessing the ability of a legend, you can't help but follow him through the looking glass into his world, revisiting jazz from a new angle, and appreciating it for the first time all over again.

Ron Carter

What Do You Think?



City & State:

e mail:

Here's Your Chance to.... Respond!

Your feedback will be featured on
Rant or Rave within 24 hours.

Return to Reviews
Return to Menu