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Ruby Braff: Ruby Braff and Strings

In the 1950s, I remember thinking what a fine cornetist Ruby Braff was and what a shame it was that he’d emerged too late to get the props he deserved for his swing and traditional influenced work, which resembled, at various times, the playing of Louis Armstrong, Bobby Hackett, Bunny Berigan and Buck Clayton. What Braff did was similar to what today’s “young lions” are doing, but he never made the cover of Time and correctly was not viewed as the savior of jazz. You couldn’t ask for a better preservationist, though. Braff has combined his influences in his own identifiable way, and always has been a sensuous and melodic improviser.

Here Braff appears on two sessions with strings. During both sessions, Braff displays a gorgeous, mellow tone, a mastery of the lower register and the ability to play pretty paraphrases of the themes. He practically sings through his horn, improvising with utter relaxation. The first session, from 1978, was originally cut for London’s Pizza Express label and features him playing tunes associated with Bing Crosby. On the second, from March 1999, he does tunes associated with Frank Sinatra. Arrangements for the first session were by Neil Richardson, for the second by Tommy Newsom. Both provide Braff with rich but not syrupy backgrounds. Braff makes an interesting selection of tunes. Some-“Swingin’ on a Star, ” “Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Rai,” “White Christmas,” “I Married an Angel,” “Please”-have seldom been used by jazzmen. Braff’s versions of them make you wonder why.

While Braff’s place in jazz history may be debatable, his musicianship is superb, and he does a laudable job of accomplishing his musical ends on this, among his best albums.

Originally Published