Whispering Braff 1989
Together with the Newport All Stars rhythm group Ruby Braff and Howard Alden are featured in Whispering. Recorded during the 1989 Bern Jazz Festival
Cornet master with a distinctive voice
by Kenny Mathieson
Ruby Braff began his jazz career as an out-of-time traditionalist playing with veteran jazzmen of an earlier age, and rose to establish his own standing as one of the handful of leading artists playing in traditional and mainstream idioms.
He was born Reuben Braff in Boston, and was self-taught on his instrument. He said that he wanted to play saxophone, but his father bought him a cornet instead. His trumpet style, which largely eschewed high-note pyrotechnics in favour of a softer exploration of the middle and bottom registers of the instrument, reflected that original love of reed rather than brass sonorities.
His loyalty to traditional jazz at a time when the focus had shifted to more modern styles starved him of work for a time in the Fifties, but he returned to prominence with an All-Star touring band created by pianist and jazz impresario George Wein. Wein remained a loyal backer of the cornetist, and featured him regularly on his international tour and festival circuit.
In the Eighties and Nineties he made a series of recordings for the major mainstream jazz labels Concord Jazz and Arbors, and formed highly-regarded duo partnerships with pianists like Mel Powell, Ralph Sutton, Dick Hyman, Ellis Larkins and Roger Kellaway.
That pattern of alienating those around him was repeated on many occasions. Braff may have made some of the most beautiful music in jazz, but his own character was precisely the opposite. He was notorious for his abrasive and insulting behaviour to other musicians, promoters and even fans, a tendency made all the worse by his failing health over many years (he suffered from emphysema, glaucoma and heart problems).