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Ron Carter: 75 Years Of Superb Bass

Legendary bassist Ron Carter turns 75 today.
Beti Niemeyer
Legendary bassist Ron Carter turns 75 today.

Today is the 75th birthday of Ron Carter, one of the most influential and widely recorded bassists in jazz history. With appearances on more than 2,000 records, his career has spanned the past six decades and is still going strong today.

Carter achieved international attention as a member of Miles Davis' legendary "second great quintet" during the mid- to late 1960s. With nimble and accurate technique, his clear lines always kept the pulse steadily moving and synchronized perfectly with everyone on stage. This reliability landed him sideman gigs with countless other musicians: McCoy Tyner, Eric Dolphy, Herbie Hancock and Horace Silver, just to name a few legends.

Carter's soloing ability is not to be ignored, of course, and he has made his mark as a bandleader since the 1970s. Nevertheless, the biggest legacy he leaves today for younger generations of bass players can be summed up in an anecdote that I've heard from him, via D.C.-area bassist Herman Burney: A $100 bill slipped under the strings of an upright bass stays under the upper section of the neck (the instrument's lower pitch range), but falls if placed farther down the neck (in the higher pitch range). It's symbolic — bassists make the bulk of their money by supporting groups, not by taking solos in the higher register.

Five recordings are not enough to fully reflect the entirety of a career spanning more than half a century, but the following selections provide an adequate sample.

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Dominic Martinez