Jazz music is one of the most culturally-influential art forms around. The genre, which lends itself to improvisation, is rich in soulfulness and complex rhythmic intricacy, was birthed within the African American community.
In the new PBS documentary Ron Carter: Finding The Right Notes, renowned jazz musician Ron Carter recounts his life story as it pertains to his musical career and legacy. With over 2200 albums recorded, he is one of the most prolific jazz musicians of our era who has used his gifts to bring light to others.
Carter spoke with EBONY about the documentary, the importance of jazz music and what it takes to succeed in the mellifluous genre.
EBONY: Tell me about your PBS documentary Finding The Right Notes?
Ron Carter: It was a 6-year process, prolonged by the 2 year COVID break. Fortunately most of the filming was done before the break, so the director Peter Schnall was able to do much of the editing and other work during that time. He traveled with me to concerts, and followed me going about my work life in all its many facets. He did a wonderful job. It looks great—great colors, great sound. I would love for people to walk away after watching Ron Carter: Finding The Right Notes to dive deep into my work, listen to my albums, come see me perform and explore my music on my online discography. That is the best way to see what it is all about and to let this music into your life. I also am personally involved in my social media. I enjoy the dialogue
You've collaborated with A Tribe Called Quest in the past. Why is it important to bridge the gap between genres of music?
I received a call from Q-Tip’s manager to ask if I would be interested in delivering bass lines for the track “Verses From the Abstract” for A Tribe Called Quest’s sophomore CD, The Low End Theory. Although I was familiar with the rap genre, I reached out to my son Myles who is well versed in hip-hop culture for his input on whether it would make sense to work with the talented group. After speaking with Myles, I agreed and Q-Tip and I went into the studio. Our collaboration helped to usher in an era in the early to mid-90s where jazz and hip hop, both rooted in the African-American music tradition, comingled in an intriguing and compelling fusion of rap and swing. In addition to this, The Low End Theory had a huge impact on other producers and we’ve seen more hip-hop groups sample from the jazz culture in amazing ways. As a jazz musician, it is very important to bridge the gap between genres and find similarities in both that truly speak to the soul of each.
Where do you think the current state of jazz is and how has it evolved over time?
The best way to know my idea of what jazz is today is through my performances all month at Birdland. I play with 4 completely different groups, with completely different songs, and a different group each week. That’s the best way I can tell you what I think jazz is.
In your own words, what about jazz music makes it so unique and special? What do you love most about the genre?
I love knowing that the people I take the stage with will go to the mat for me, as I will for them. I love that I have played some songs more times than I can count, and make them sound different and fresh every time.
What are the greatest lessons you've garnered over your 60+ year career?
Play with integrity and respect for the music, and expect the same from your other band members. Play with purpose, toward something you are striving for, and know that every time you play there’s a lesson in it for you—either something new you found, or something you missed that you can correct next time. Moreover, practice, prepare and give 1000% every time.