Art Blakey: Interview 3
Ruby Braff: Interview 1

Ruby Braff (1927–2003)

Cornetist Ruby (Reuben) Braff was born in Boston, Massachusetts. Self-taught, he played locally during the 1940s, recorded with Edmond Hall’s band in 1949 and worked with Pee Wee Russell in the early 1950s. He moved to New York in 1953 and made outstanding recordings that year with trombonist Vic Dickenson’s septet.

While these and other 1950s recordings drew critical acclaim, Braff’s pre-modern mainstream style did not bring him plentiful work in that decade, as modern jazz established itself. In the 1960s Braff joined George Wein’s Newport All Stars with which he toured Europe in 1961. In 1973–5 he co-led a quartet with guitarist George Barnes which helped to build his international reputation, supported by many excellent recorded collaborations with like-minded players, and performances abroad. In later years he was often in Europe and much in demand as a freelance soloist.

Braff made many consistently good records, among this writer’s all-time favourites being the timeless, sensitive duets he recorded with Baltimore pianist Ellis Larkins. Digby Fairweather described Braff as ‘the most artistic trumpeter/cornetist to emerge since Louis Armstrong’, with an evolving style that, in later years, ‘never lost the grace and beauty’ that made his work ‘inimitable’. 

Biography by Roger Cotterrell.


I've always hated the trumpet

Interviewed in 1968 by Les Tomkins, Ruby Braff expresses in his usual forthright way his views on the blues in jazz, his own recordings and about being stylistically labelled.


Ruby Braff: Interview 2

Ruby Braff: Interview 1

Image Details

Interview date 1st January 1968
Interview source Jazz Professional
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Image source URL
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Forename Ruby
Surname Braff
Quantity 1

Interview Transcription

I’ve always hated the trumpet. I didn‘t choose it. I wanted the B flat tenor saxophone. When my folks went to the store and saw what they thought was a tenor (it was actually a baritone), they said: “This is ridiculous”. They brought home this peculiar thing with valves on it, which I hated for ever. Never did care for it.

In school sometimes there would be an instructor that would give you lessons, but not very much. Unfortunately, I’m mostly self–taught. I hope to fix that one of these days.

As for inspirations—I never even knew what Louis Armstrong was. I only heard people talk about artists that were on the radio or on the screen—the Tommy Dorseys, the Artie Shaws, that sort of thing. And they looked like they were having such a marvellous, glamorous life, living in hotels, so well–dressed. It seemed like the epitome of luxury. I had no idea that they were all miserable! My first records were made in Boston, for a label called Storyville, and for Savoy Records, with Edmond Hall and Vic Dickenson. But they were terrible recordings—off broadcasts, mainly. Very sad things. I couldn’t play, either. The one made in a club where you could hear the audience more than the music was one of the better records.

Sure, they’ve made statements about my supposedly combining a modern approach with a feeling for traditional forms. Well, people say all sorts of things, because they want to categorise and label. I’ve only ever had two labels. Either it’s good or it stinks.

It always makes me laugh. If you heard David Oistrakh, would you say to him: “Man, what bag are you in?” No, you wouldn’t. Yet they say that to a musician who has spent 30 or 40 years trying to evolve a way of playing.

So it’s silly. Is he playing good or isn’t he? That’s the only thing that counts. But I know a lot of people don’t agree with me; Particularly the critics. They must put labels on music, so they can have it like canned goods on their shelf.

The truth of the matter is: there are a couple of idioms of music, the so–called symphonic world and the improvisational world of jazz, an American music which is a mixture of European ingredients, the Negro cultures from New Orleans. and Tin Pan Alley.

It’s also silly to keep talking about the blues as the most vital part of jazz. The blues is just a 12–bar series of chord changes which doesn’t really mean that much. How does somebody play a well–written, well–constructed song, keeping the character of it and then adding something to it? I think that’s important.

I don’t know what they mean by “blues feeling”. That’s a very mysterious phrase to me. I’ve heard it applied to players that are incredibly horrible, ridiculous musical morons.

These congenital idiots play insipid nonsense and they say: “Man, don’t he play the blues!” I wouldn’t want anyone to think that I play the blues if that’s what they imagine it is. Who cares about blues, anyway? Admittedly. it’s part of the folk heritage. There were many singers who made up millions of variations on those same kind of chords, sometimes with a few different changes here and there—Handy would have a few. Jelly Roll Morton was very inventive when it came to writing blues; they all have a little character of their own.

But the guys who are praised for playing the same set of changes, the same amount of foolish notes all the time—can they play anything else? As a matter of fact, when they play some other tune, it sounds like they’re still playing the blues. After all, you’re supposed to be composing something while you’re playing. Or trying to.

I love to worry about composition when I play. There is no other way to know if someone is talented or not, outside of whether what he plays hangs together in a composite form.

How else can we tell? Whether he’s drumming, singing, whistling, dancing or whatever, it must hang together.

And if it doesn’t, I can’t see how people read things into it. On what basis do they judge talent—reading ability, how fast he can run the notes? Out of a symphony of 180 musicians, there’s liable to be three that have talent. They can all play their instruments beautifully that has nothing to do with having talent.

Talent is something that very few people have, really. And there are no geniuses. Maybe Louis and Duke are something in jazz. But they keep throwing these words around. If Albert Einstein is a genius, for example, how can Albert Ayler be a genius? It’s ridiculous. It doesn’t make any sense.

There’s more talent than there are geniuses, but not everybody was born to write or play. I think they’d be much better off if they would just try to love what they’re doing, forget all the meaningless words, and let the axe fall where it may.