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Tetra owner Dr. Ron Carter as Scientist.

Published: April 30, 2018
Tetra 606

Tetra owner Dr. Ron Carter as Scientist.

Musicians as Audiophiles: Ron Carter

  Ronald Levin "Ron" Carter is arguably the greatest upright jazz bassist to have ever walked four strings, and he's literally the most recorded bassist of all time. "With 2,221 individual recording credits, as verified on 15 September 2015," notes Carter's website.

  Making his collective jazz debut on three important LPs: Howard McGhee's Dusty Blue (Bethlehem, 1960), Nat Wright's The Biggest Voice in Jazz (Warwick, 1961), and Charles Persip and the Jazz Statesmen (Bethlehem, 1960), Carter launched a career in music personified by an ability to master any style, the acuity to execute precise lines with a profound sense of swing and harmonic discernment, and a critical intelligence that finds the towering 6'3" Michigan native constantly seeking, forever learning. By his own admission, Carter is "a scientist."

  Carter's many plaudits stack up like a layer cake: bachelor of music degree from the Eastman School, master's degree in double bass from the Manhattan School of Music, four honorary doctorates from the New England Conservatory of Music and the Manhattan School of Music, recipient of France's medallion and title of Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters, Artistic Director of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Studies (Boston), and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of The City College of New York.

  One need only listen to any of Miles Davis's albums with his great '60s quintet of Carter, tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter, pianist Herbie Hancock and drummer Tony Williams to understand the bassist's singular innovations in music.

  "Black Comedy," from Miles in the Sky (Mobile Fidelity/Columbia MFSL 2-437 2 180gm AAA LPs), is a landmine of arrangement, with Miles spiraling off to his own world as Tony Williams pumps a feverish eighth-note hi-hat figure and Herbie Hancock frames the swing-to-free near cacophony. But Carter doesn't play it straight or easy in this full-band tug of war. Alternating between upper range, nearly pizzicato string accents and growling low end threats, Carter walks when required and plays the song's jagged accents with an abstract approach, but through it all maintains full, pointed notes and a fat, warm tone. Carter's innovations are heard on all of Miles Davis's 1960s Columbia albums.

  As I've interviewed musicians for Musicians as Audiophiles, to a man they've whispered, "You've got to hear Ron Carter's rig. He's deeeep into it." Ron Carter? I shuddered. As well as maintaining the highest musical standards, Carter has a reputation as a man who doesn't suffer fools gladly. He refuses many interview requests, and photos of the jazz giant are out of the question. But once again, Billy Drummond came to my aid, shared Ron's email with me, and I fired off a query. To my surprise, Carter replied two days later, in the affirmative.

  I approached Carter's Upper West Side building with excitement and trepidation. He communicated by email that he'd invited a friend to join us, a medical doctor who knows a thing or two about high-end audio. Great.

  Opening the door to his apartment Ron Carter greeted me with a beaming smile and a bear-like handshake. Ron's a gentle giant. His spacious apartment is practically a gallery, its wall lined with artwork of all styles. And Ron's all-knowing audio friend? Mr. Edwin Barnett, a regular customer (and friend) at New York's Jazz Record Center, my Saturday place of employment. It's old home week at Ron Carter's crib!