“Do you know that bari song?”
Nearly every baritone saxophonist has been asked that question. The song in question is Ronnie Cuber’s intro to the Mingus Big Band’s version of “Moanin'”.
It’s an iconic statement in the baritone saxophone solo catalogue.
I’ve even used it to test my kids’ taste in music. Here’s my daughter checking it out.
Ronnie Cuber was the baritone saxophonist who made me listen deeper and explore different ways to play the bari sax.
I remember digging into his solos on the Mingus Big Band ’93 – Nostalgia In Times Square, and just falling in love with how the solos spoke to me – a great mix of blues and bop. It satisfied the frustrated tenor player in me.
I started listening deeper into Ronnie’s discography, and I came across two of his recordings he had done as a leader – Cubism and Ronnie. These reaffirmed my admiration for him as a soloist, but more than that, I loved his playing in a straight-ahead setting, and a Latin jazz setting. He seemed to change gears for each musical situation that he was in, and his playing was really appropriate for the circumstance.
Exploring his credits has been even more interesting, because I have been able to check him out in different situations – horn sections, featured soloist, big bands, quartets, and more. Every time I listened, it drove home the point of being authentic to the style you are working in – a lesson that I have carried forward in my career.
As my gateway into baritone saxophone listening, Ronnie Cuber has led me to listen to Gary Smulyan, Nick Brignola, more Gerry Mulligan, which then steered me towards Lars Gullin, Serge Chaloff. As my baritone listening has become deeper, I have found my tastes drifting towards John Surman and modern-day players.
Also, for the first time in my life, I was listening backwards. My listening experience as a young player was always rooted in Lester Young, Zoot Sims, Stan Getz and Ben Webster, and while it gave me an amazing foundation on which to build my concept, I was always playing catch up to my peers in their listening. Listening to Ronnie Cuber first, and then working my back towards iconic players from the 1930’s-50’s changed the way I felt time, and my sound concept in a positive way which has allowed me to keep my playing relevant to the work I’m hired for now.