Ray Brown

Jazz Cello

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On the last day of August and the first day of September 1960, bassist Ray Brown recorded his third album for the Verve label, focusing most of his attention upon the cello while Joe Mondragon handled the bass. The 11-piece band on this date was conducted by arranger Russ Garcia and included reed players Paul Horn and Bob Cooper as well as pianist Jimmy Rowles. The results were typical of late-'50s West Coast mainstream jazz: familiar ballads and friendly, uplifting standards, tidily performed. Some of the tunes reach back to the 1920s, with "Rock-A-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody" serving as a surprisingly hip link with vaudeville as Brown's pizzicato maneuverings are punctuated with punchy blasts from reeds and brass. If one takes the time to place this recording within an historical context, an impressive evolution reveals itself. The first bassist to cross over to cello on records in modern times is believed to have been Oscar Pettiford, while Fred Katz popularized the warm-toned instrument through his work with drummer Chico Hamilton. The progression of jazz cellists since then is impressive, from Ray Brown, Sam Jones, Percy Heath and Ron Carter to Abdul Wadud, David Holland, David Darling, David Eyges and Diedre Murray. By the first decade of the 21st century, an unprecedented number of improvising cellists had appeared, making Ray Brown's 1960 Jazz Cello album seem like a sunny little episode in the foundation of a fascinating modern tradition spanning several generations.

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