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10/01/09

Dan Ouellette
Ron Carter: Finding the Right Notes

Veteran jazz journalist Ouellette’s biography is the first book published by ArtistShare and is not available in bookstores. Purchase of the book also enables the buyer to access photos, video, and interviews on line.

Carter proposed the biography to Ouellette in 2004 and gave the writer his complete cooperation. The bio at first follows a relatively chronological approach while using Carter’s major student, and, later, professional affiliations as an organizing technique. Ouellette diverts from this about halfway through and organizes the remainder into chapters centered on Carter’s various ongoing ensembles and teaching. Tangential sections called snapshots and colloquies are also interspersed throughout and there are appendices.

The bio claims that Carter is “justifiably heralded as the most recorded jazz bassist in.. history”, and attempts to touch base with many of Carter’s recorded performances, making it very thorough while perhaps providing a bit more information than some readers seek. The structure seemingly leads to some repetition that might have been avoided with a purely chronological approach. Carter’s professional colleagues are given a good deal of space to relate their experiences with him and Carter is often quoted throughout. The space given to the words of Carter and his colleagues often leads to a low level authorial presence which will please those who believe that musicians’ words are of more value than critics’.

Carter’s accomplishments make him a clearly worthwhile subject for a biography and his place in the history of jazz makes much of the content worthwhile reading for anyone interested in the music, or bass playing. The reader will likely finish the bio with an accurate picture of Carter as a proud and fastidious man. He describes himself as “tall, handsome, and elegant”, “bright”,”the most recorded jazz bassist of the century”, “one of the bassists who helped move the bass to a new level”, and we are well informed about his success as an endorser in Japan, his taste in pipes and tobacco, cars, and stereo equipment besides his opinions on music, bass playing and teaching, and recording. I don’t take issue with Carter’s description of himself, and, the accompanying online videos of him represent him as interesting to listen to. Arguing against a portrait of Carter as an incredibly accomplished musician and one of the leading performers in the history of the bass is totally impossible, but it is possible to oversell it, as this book does.

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