An Upright Man and Living Legend – Ron Carter

Icon of the upright bass, Ron Carter (who began his music career as a schoolboy on cello) has enjoyed decades of amazing performances and is a major contributor to the jazz lexicon. He is a composer, a teacher, an author, and has the distinction of making the Guinness Book of World Records for 2,221 individual recording credits (verified in September 2015). His earliest work from the 1960s through his 2015 album “My Personal Songbook” has shown the progression of a career steeped in a passion for music. Swinging on “Seven Steps to Heaven” or infusing emotion and sliding into a blues head on “Willow Weep for Me” – whether using harmonics with a fingertip, picking the strings or bowing a tremolo – his is not a sound relegated to the back of the stage. Carter adds a strong melodic presence as he sings through the bass, creating sweet beats and strong pacing. A very special thanks to Mr. Carter for this interview.

Did you find the bass intimidating when you started learning? How did you overcome that?

I never felt intimidated by the bass/what reasons could there possibly be?

Name a few of your favorite collaborations ever/anywhere, and why?

Any one that reaches, [chooses] to join them in their project, is/will be my favorite collab.

What do you like most about being in a small, intimate club?

I can see and feel their responses to the music immediately.

I feel that I can control their responses easier.

What do you like most about being in a small ensemble and ALSO in a big band/orchestra?

I treat all sizes of any group that I am playing with equally.

Talk about “Round Midnight” and why you think it’s such a jazz classic; and what were some of your favorite performances of that song?

I have not rated it as a classic. I’ve played it too often to keep that kind of score card. 

Why did you choose “Seven Steps to Heaven” a part of your Dear Miles tribute?

It is a very easy song to alter its form, manipulate the chords, and most jazz fans recognize the melody.

How does a musician know if they have a really good right record label?

They can only use their experiences against other musicians’ experiences.

What is the most rewarding part of teaching at City College?

Having the students see me talk the talk and walk the walk.

Can jazz withstand the lack of live performance opportunities due to COVID and what should musicians focus on in the meantime?


Learning their craft (composing, playing) better…get a teacher.

What question do you get asked most often?

“What was it like playing with Miles Davis?”

Your proudest musical accomplishment?

Any time I’m playing music, I’m proud to be doing so.

Your proudest personal accomplishment?

Being the oldest black male to not be arrested while driving black.

For more information visit

Photos courtesy of and with permission of Ron Carter.

(c) 2020 Debbie Burke

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