Rick Beato’s Ron Carter Interview Summary

This post contains my summary notes from Rick Beato’s interview with bassist Ron Carter.

A far ranging conversation that touched on New York City’s Jazz scene in the 60s, recording in the 60s, playing with legends Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and much more.

Full interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k2vqJ78VA4g

Summary Notes

1961 Jazz in NYC Scene (2:35)

Back then you had 3 sets a night, 9pm, 11pm, 1am. In Harlem they would have 4 sets (Friday and Saturday) with the last starting around 2am.

The younger players got a sense of how to plan a night, plan the set around who was there, the late night set was a real blues kind of set, early set would have complicated forms and lot’s of changes…”

Everyone wore suits and ties, everyone got dressed for the gig.

Jazz was everywhere, you’d hear it a lot on the radio. Riverside Church had a great station where the DJ was very knowledgeable about Jazz and had a great collection.

Recordings in the 60s (Live gigs & Studio) (8:20)

No soundcheck, oftentimes the musicians didn’t even know the gig was being recorded. Ron wouldn’t even get a copy of the record after it was done.

I went to the store and bought them all, I bought each record…”

Ron spent a lot of time at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio. Rudy had all the latest equipment (microphones, control board). For 6 months he would go every Saturday to Rudy’s and work on finding the best placement for the bass to get the best recording sound.

We said put it (the bass) in the booth and see how that works. And to this day that’s the best sound of the room…”

Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter & Herbie Hancock (11:30)

For Wayne and Herbie records, the group would rehearse at some point prior to the recording date. Once at the studio, wouldn’t leave the studio until the entire record was finished.

For a Miles record would enter the studio without knowing the material. Would run through the tune, then two takes and move on to the next song. Would take about 1-2 days depending on how many songs needed to be recorded.

I had control over that (how well I played), the idea of who is going to mix, the producer, the artwork, liner notes, I seldom had contact with those people. You make a record and you go to the next one…”

Playing with different drummers (14:40)

It’s important for a drummer to tune the drums – it will actually help the drummer hear more of the notes from the bass player.

Jazz records were popular at the time (23:00)

Records were selling good, there was a big market for these Jazz records, people were getting more sensitive to what they were buying, the price of records was reasonable, people could afford at home gear…”

Engineers were learning how to best record the musicians. Wanted to be able to capture how they were hearing the live sound on a record for people to enjoy at home.

Working on a Miles Davis Record (24:00)

Miles was interested in hearing everyone’s point of view…”

“Unfortunately there is no common language for Jazz, no phrase everyone knows, it involves a lot of trial and error, we understand it’s important to communicate verbally, but we don’t have enough common words to do that…”

If you had original tunes, you bring them in on the date, play it through with the band, and the person who brought it in would be receptive to the feedback to make the tune better. Miles wanted to hear feedback on how the tune could be made better.

Inspiration (31:50)

Didn’t have a specific bass player that influenced his playing.

Trombonist J.J. Johnson was an influence.

I was amazed that he (Johnson) could find these saxophone-like articulations without going far from the bell. It was amazing to me. If that’s possible, it seems to me clearly a bass instrument should have that capacity. If I want to make this stuff work, make a career out of this stuff, I have to be different from everyone else, I need my own sound, my own skill level…”

Bass note choices (37:30)

The band will respond to a bass player’s note choices or rhythm. A bass line may depend on how the piano player voiced the chords, what the drummer was doing, which take of the tune it is.

Musicians he wished he played with (39:30)  

Ella Fitzgerald and Ahmad Jamal

Terrible gigs (40:30)

I’m not sure that those terrible gigs really exist. Whatever gig I play, whatever the level, ultimately decided by someone else, not me, by them, I get a chance to get better at something that I couldn’t get better at at a hipper gig. Whether it’s how to play a two-beat, how long to make a quarter note rest…”

The gig is only as bad as your talent level is…”

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