I met Bob Cranshaw when I was doing the first Playboy Jazz Festival in Chicago in 1959. Something happened to my bass player and the people in Chicago said, “Try Bob Cranshaw.” Bob came by and I heard him play. I played some of the stuff that was in my set then, and I made some modulations, and he was right there with me. He was nimble enough to follow the things that I was doing, which was what I was looking for. I also like to play calypso music, because I have Caribbean heritage, and Bob could play calypso. At that time you did not run into a lot of jazz musicians who could play calypso, but people had gotten used to hearing me play calypso at my concerts. So Bob filled that capacity as well, and it endeared him to me musically. That was an important reason why I always sought him out. He fit the bill.
That was before the time when I went to The Bridge. I told Bob that I was going to be taking a hiatus for a while, but that when I formed my band when I came back I would invite him to play with me. So he started really working with me during the 1960s, after The Bridge.
Bob had a young family in New York, so of course he was inclined to look for work in the city and stay with his family. He did a lot of studio work, and all these television shows and things that musicians do, and it made him a fixture in New York. In between those [gigs] I would call him, and sometimes he couldn’t do something with me and sometimes he could. Bob was always my first call. As far as his association with me, it was sporadic during our five decades, but we still did a lot together.
There was a development in Brooklyn, right across the street from Pratt Institute, in the Clinton Hill area of Brooklyn. I was living on the Lower East Side, and Bob came by one day when I was about ready to move, and he mentioned this place where he was at and said, “Why don’t you come over here?” So we were able to live in the same development. I know all of Bob’s kids, and he knew my family.
It was a great experience playing with him all those years, and he was a great bass player. He did great work, and that’s about all we humans can do. The jazz community has lost someone very important. I miss him, both musically and as a good guy with whom I had a good relationship. Bob was a people person: He worked with the Jazz Foundation and with the American Federation of Musicians, and he was always there when musicians needed him. There isn’t a musician I know who hasn’t played with Bob Cranshaw at one time or another. I’m sure he’ll be missed by more than just me.