An odd subject for a new-year message, you might think – but stick with me, all will become clear. In the meantime, some lovely, seasonal music – sung by a very talented guy and written by Frank Loesser, whose wife, incidentally, was once referred to as ‘The evil of two Loessers’.
As I mentioned in an earlier blog entry (see Which Reminds Me… – one of my better efforts, I reckon), the news media seem to use the fallow period between Christmas and New Year to list the people of note who assumed room temperature during the course of the year. So, in keeping with the tradition, I’ll talk about someone who died… several years ago.
The Boston-born cornettist Ruby Braff was quite simply one of the finest players I ever saw. I heard him very late in his career when, despite poor health limiting his range somewhat, he remained a stunning improviser. I felt him to be a real musical inspiration in that he succeeded in what I strive to do – play in the style of players a generation older but remain fresh and interesting. It was Ruby’s off-stage, permanently irascible persona that really amused and intrigued me though. He was known by certain musicians with whom he’d worked as ‘Mr Hyde and Mr Hyde’ with good reason.
My chum once found himself taking a nightcap with Ruby and another visiting American jazzman. A third party came up in conversation and Jazzman 2 said, “I can’t stand him, in fact I hate him.” Ruby countered with “I hate him more than you do.”
In another ‘friend of a friend’ situation, a certain gig promoter’s name was mentioned. Apparently Ruby became quite animated and explained, “You know, Harry Edison used to say ‘You can’t polish a turd’, and I never really knew what he meant… until I met that guy!” Incidentally, I once used the ‘can’t polish a turd’ line to a studio engineer friend whose pithy retort was, “Nope – but I can roll it in glitter.”
And so to the story of my one and only meeting with Ruby Braff:
I’d been put on the guest-list at a popular Soho jazz venue by a bass player of my acquaintance. When I arrived, the manager was unnecessarily officious with me which, in hindsight, was possibly a consequence of his recently having found himself the subject of a Ruby tirade. Anyway, my chum introduced me to the American star by saying, “Ruby, this is Peter Cook – an alto player who shares his name with a famous British comic”. This obviously went straight over Mr Braff’s head and he responded with a loud “Huh?” “You know, Ruby,” someone started to explain, “Peter Cook and Dudley Moore”. At this he looked up at me, pointed accusingly and declared, “I hope you’re funnier than Dudley Moore; he never made me fucking laugh”. “Nice to meet you too, Ruby”… was what I thought. If I’d actually said it, he’d almost certainly have said “Mr Braff to you!” (he even made a record with that as the title).
Ruby Braff’s obituary in The Guardian ended with the three words, ‘He never married’. Funny, that. Actually, his demeanour did have an amusing air about it, and when he played you could almost forgive him anything – honest!
And so to New Year…
Ruby Braff had just finished a New Year’s Eve gig when a punter approached him, thanked him for a lovely evening and wished him a happy new year. The ever-gracious Mr Braff responded with “Don’t tell me what sort of new year to have!”
I won’t, therefore, dare tell you what sort of new year to have, but I do hope you’ll be healthy and content in 2016.
Until the next time…
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