02/11/03

Ruby Braff Dies

Ruby Braff, a cornetist who played mostly in the swing and Dixieland styles, died Sunday morning. Braff had recently returned to his home in Harwich, Mass. from England and was physically exhausted—Braff had been battling lung disease for years. He developed pneumonia and was treated at a Cape Cod hospital. Too weak thereafter for unassisted living, Braff checked into Liberty Commons Rehab Center in Chatham, Mass., on Cape Cod, where he died. He was 75.

Born Reuben Braff in Boston on Mar. 16, 1927, he was a self-taught musician with a gift for creating melodic phrases, especially in the instrument’s lower register. He began working in the 1940s at local nightclubs and parties. After playing with Edmond Hall’s big band from 1949-’53, Braff moved to New York City and began performing and recording with players like Vic Dickenson, Buck Clayton, Urbie Green, Bud Freeman and Benny Goodman. Though he was a respected musician, the last half of the 1950s were hard on Braff. His traditional sound was in conflict with the popular jazz sound of the day.

In the 1960s Braff joined and toured with George Wein’s Newport All Stars—a band that played in the mainstream and Dixieland styles—and saw a resurgence in his popularity and career. He continued to work in the studio during the 1960s. In 1973 Braff formed a quartet with guitarist George Barnes which toured, recorded and became popular both in the States and abroad before disbanding two years later.

Braff worked steadily throughout the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s. He recorded over a dozen albums for Concord during the ‘80s and early ‘90s and helped fuel the mainstream jazz revival occurring at the time. From 1993 on, Braff recorded mainly for the Arbors label. He became seriously ill with lung disease in 1994, but maintained an active recording and touring schedule until his death.

Braff is survived by a sister. A memorial service for Braff will be held Wednesday morning in Chatham, Mass.

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