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George Braith: The Man Who Also Cried Fire

George Braith, 1977
George Braith, 2003

Jazz fans are all too accustomed to shelling out megabucks for fancy CD box sets. So when I came across the George Braith set The Complete Blue Note Sessions at my local record store priced only slightly higher than a regular CD, I was inclined to buy it, even though at the time I had only a vague knowledge of who Braith was. After all, it’s not often you can buy one of those complete works extravaganzas for less than the cost of a night in a New York jazz club. As it happens, my purchase proved once again that you don’t always get what you pay for. Sometimes you get more.

George Braith is a New York-born and bred saxophonist who made three albums for Blue Note from 1963 to 1964. He also recorded as a sideman with organist Big John Patton and led dates for Prestige later in the decade. The type of fame accorded many of his Blue Note labelmates eluded Braith, however. Look him up in the jazz record guides and you won’t find much. Braith is a victim of the genre’s primary limitation, in which a musician’s career is defined solely in terms of his recorded output, and his recording career peaked 40 years ago. You do the math.

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