Ruby Braff Day

March 16, 1927 – February 9, 2003

A tribute to the swing cornetist

Cornetist Reuben “Ruby” Braff was born on March 16, 1927 in Boston, Massachusetts.

Originally Braff wanted to play tenor-sax but his parents saw a baritone and thought the instrument was way too big for him so they got him a trumpet; he later switched to cornet.

Braff began playing music when he was eight, was performing in local bars by the time he was 11, and gained early experience playing with veterans in Boston.

He made his recording debut with Edmond Hall in 1949, and worked and recorded with Pee Wee Russell, Jo Jones, Vic Dickenson, Bud Freeman, the Benny Goodman Sextet (1955), Buck Clayton’s jam sessions and on many sessions for the Vanguard label including some of his own.

Practically the only young horn player to specialize in pre-bop jazz in the 1950s, Braff was nearly alone in his generation.

Hee seemed to record during the second half of the 1950s and the 60s more often than he actually worked in public but things picked up by the late 1960s when he gigged and recorded with George Wein’s Newport All-Stars.

Braff had a delightful and popular quartet with guitarist George Barnes (1973-75), worked with the New York Jazz Repertory Company, and became more popular in the late 1970s with the comeback of mainstream swing; now he was often the oldest (rather than the youngest) musician on his jobs which sometimes included Scott Hamilton and Howard Alden.

Braff, who had a distinctive sound and in his solos sometimes seemed to have a musical conversation with himself (alternating between two registers), often built up his solos to a low note; he would have been much more famous if he had been in a different decade but he was certainly a musical giant.

Here is Ruby Braff from the 1990 Newport Jazz Festival playing “Pennies From Heaven” with a small group also featuring guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli and pianist Eric Reed.

-Scott Yanow


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