Ron Carter :: Biography

Walk or wander into the world of jazz. Ron Carter is there. His reputation in the music world is peerless. He more than capably accompanies any player or group and, without breaking stride, performs with stunning virtuosity as a soloist. His work is rich in detail, pure of sound, and technically impressive. Carter's long list of accolades as a performer is unprecedented; he may be the most popular bassist there is.

A lean six feet four inches and a mixture of pride and courtliness, Ron displays an elegant calm on stage as well as off. He has created music with consumate skill for more than thirty years, apparently without rumpling his tasteful suits or raising a serious sweat. In the early 1960's, he performed throughout the United States in nightclubs and concert halls with Eric Dolphy, Jaki Byard, and Wes Montgomery, then toured Europe with Cannonball Adderley. He was a member of Miles Davis' now classic quintet from 1963 to 1968, along with Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams, and Wayne Shorter.

Ron was among the few bassists who continued to play acoustic bass when many turned to electric bass. "It was a conscious choice," he says. "I felt a responsibility to present a viable alternative to the popular electronic sound."

One of Carter's chief accomplishments has been to create bass lines so harmonically and rythmically rich that soloists have had to respond to his challenge. As he puts it: "A good bassist determines the direction of any band." Often Carter uses gonglike tones and glissandos in his work. Once his trademark, these ringing notes have now become part of every modern bassist's arsenal. In fact, when he plays, it's like a history lesson in the bass.

When he first thought of forming his own group, Ron was presented with a new challenge. Traditionally, the bass was not considered a lead instrument. Ron found a solution in the piccolo bass, an instrument one-half the size of a full-size (4/4) bass. He tuned the instrument to bring out an unusual sound quality that stands out in an ensemble. Backed by a quartet of piano, drums, percussion, and an additional bass, this puts Ron out front and creates one of the most distinctive and unusual jazz formations ever heard.


Ron Carter won a Grammy award in 1988 for the instrumental composition, "Call Sheet Blues," from the movie 'Round Midnight. He scored and arranged music for a number of other films including Beatrice, directed by Bertrand Tavernier; Haraka, directed by Ola Balugun; and television movies "Exit Ten," starring Peter Weller; and "A Gathering of Old Men," starring Richard Widmark and Louis Gosset Jr.

He is author of Building a Jazz Bass Line, a series of books on playing bass; Ron Carter Comprehensive Bass Method, for classical bass studies; Ron Carter Bass Lines, and The Music of Ron Carter, which contains 140 of his published and recorded compositions.

Recording Artist

Ron Carter's solo bass recording of the Bach Cello Suites on compact disc was Certified Gold in 1988.

With more than 1,000 albums to his credit, Carter may well be the most recorded bassist. He is equally successful as a leader and a supportive collaborator, anchoring extraordinary and varied sessions with commanding technique and impeccable taste. He has recorded with many of the greatest names in music: Oliver Nelson, Tommy Flanagan, Gil Scott-Heron, Gil Evans, Lena Horne, James Brown, Coleman Hawkins, Bill Evans, Carlos Santana, Aretha Franklin, Sonny Rollins, Paul Simon, Janis Ian, Bette Midler, Benny Goodman, George Benson, B.B. King, Eric Gale, Johnny Hodges, Antonio Carlos Jobim, The Kronos Quartet, Dexter Gordon, and Helen Merrill.

His many awards include citations by the Japan All-Star Jazz Poll and the Swing Journal Readers Poll. He was voted Outstanding Bassist of the Decade by the Detroit News and Jazz Bassist of the year by Down Beat Magazine. Ron was also named Most Valuable Player, Acoustic Bass, by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

Educator & Spokesman

Carter earned a bachelor of music degree from the Eastman School of Music and a master's degree in double bass from the Manhattan School of Music, where he later returned to teach. He has lectured, conducted, and performed at clinics, instructed jazz ensembles, and has taught the business of music at Wisconsin, Connecticut, Indiana, North Carolina, Rutgers, and Howard universities, among others, as well as the Harlem School for the Arts. He is currently Professor of Music at the City College of New York.

"Education has always served to increase my awareness," says Carter. "Teaching helps me better understand what it is that I do. The students walk away with the history of string bass; they become more cognizant of jazz history. Also, their questions - about jazz publishing, copyright laws, and recording contracts - are answered firsthand."

Ron Carter has performed with the Black Composers Orchestra, the New World Symphony Orchestra, the Rochester Philharmonia, and the Brooklyn Philharmonic. He also serves on the advisory board of the Jazz Musicians Association and is on the board of directors of the Harlem Jazz Music Center in New York City.