Red Balaban

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The nickname "Red" could be the most widely used in jazz or any musical genre; in the meantime, that a sub-catagory relating to bassists with this nickname exists should never be doubted. There is even…
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The nickname "Red" could be the most widely used in jazz or any musical genre; in the meantime, that a sub-catagory relating to bassists with this nickname exists should never be doubted. There is even a jazz anecdote relating to a bandleader calling an apartment shared by two bassists, both known as "Red", and hiring the wrong one. At least he was not looking for Red Balaban, whose real name was Leonard Balaban, and like many trad jazz artisans, was also adept at tuba. Balaban's background is Florida, where he was playing in regional bands beginning in the mid-'50s. From 1966 he held forth in New York City at Your Father's Mustache, a popular Dixieland venue and not a perch for gravy or milk.

Besides being an active leader, Balaban backed payers such as Wild Bill Davidson, Eddie Condon, Gene Krupa, Dick Wellstood, and Kenny Davern, who all utilized him in their rhythm sections on either or both of his instruments. In 1975, he took over the club owned by Condon, putting him in a good position to declare his new status as house band leader. The management's new group became known as Balaban & the Cats and included players such as trombonist Vic Dickinson, trumpeter Warren Vaché, and drummer Connie Kay. About ten years later, the club finally closed down, and like many such dives, its ambience has been memorialized in the limbo of live recordings, a good place to hear Balaban in his mature period as a player, i.e. prior to unemployment. Actually that was hardly the case with this shade of "Red", still doing gigs at the age of 74.