What Ever Happened To Ron Crotty?

The vacation trip is over. I’m easing out of the driver’s seat and back into the saddle. Blogging will resume at a leisurely pace necessitated by rescuing the lawn and garden from two weeks of neglect, paying overdue bills, dealing with an accumulation of telephone messages, and facing the intimidating pile of mail that I hauled out of the post office in a plastic tub the size of the freight containers we saw on trucks on Interstate 5. Well, enough of that; you know what it’s like to return from a vacation.

Gorge Road.jpg
One of the pleasures of the 3000-mile motor excursion down and up the west coast of the US was silence. Except for conversation between two people who don’t seem to get enough of it at home, and a modicum of music, we cruised along luxuriating in the glorious spring scenery. We saw shades of green I’d forgotten existed. This was along the old Columbia Gorge highway in Oregon.

For purposes of relief and recharging, we limited listening to a couple of CDs. One of them came as a surprise and a pleasure. It was by a trio that included only one musician whose name is likely to be familiar to many listeners outside the San Francisco Bay area.

That name is Ron Crotty. He was the bassist in the Dave Brubeck Trio of the late 1940s and early ’50s and the quartet that Brubeck and Paul Desmond formed in 195l. On the cover of Brubeck’s celebrated Jazz at Oberlin from 1953, he is lounging in the lowerThumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Oberlin.jpg right of the photograph. Crotty’s influences were Jimmy Blanton and Ray Brown. At the age of 80, that’s how he plays today, with solid time, a big tone, the best notes in any given chord, no acrobatics high on the finger board, no triple stops and no blinding double-time passages. With Crotty on the new CD are men he plays with in his gigs in the café of the Oakland Museum, the clubs called Anna’s and Sadie’s and other spots around the Bay Area. They are bass trumpeter Frank Phipps and guitarist Tony Corman. How many important bass trumpeters can you name? I can think of two in addition to Dizzy Gillespie, who dallied briefly with the instrument. They are Cy Touff and Johnny Mandel. Mandel played bass trumpet briefly with Count Basie, then went on to other work. Add Phipps to the list. Cat can play. So can Corman. Phipps has a lovely way of alluding to extracurricular tunes without quoting them outright. Why is he shown on the cover playing a trombone? I don’t know.

The CD, cleverly titled Crotty Corman And Phipps, is on the Auraline label, as new to me as are Phipps and

crottycormanphipps.jpgCorman. All of the tunes are standards, except Corman’s samba “Rosa Rugosa” and Phipps’s “Ron’s Muse.” I was absorbed by Crotty’s straightforward bass line on “I Got Rhythm” changes in “Ron’s Muse.” “Rhythm” changes can be abused and they can be boring, but in the right hands they are never outdated. Other highlights: the languor of Corman’s out-of-tempo introduction to “Rosa Rugosa;” Phipps’s muted sound of a friendly walrus on “How Deep is the Ocean;” the way the three use the changes to create a new melody from the beginning of “Ghost of a Chance,” never disclosing the tune until the bridge of the final chorus; the unperturbed spunk of “My Little Suede Shoes;” the rolling swing of “Tangerine.”

In this clip from YouTube, they play “Witchcraft.” The sound is on the verge of distortion, but the video gives you a look at the group. Corman goes beyond allusion in his quote from John Lewis’s “The Golden Striker,” but he makes it fit so nicely that he can be forgiven.

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  1. Sam Tiresias says

    Wow. Haven’t heard that name since forever. Another reason I dig this site.
    Thanks for the info.
    Sam T.

  2. says

    To the short list of bass trumpeters might I add the name of Dave Wells who played that instrument, I believe, on the Charlie Barnet Lp Lonely Street with Barnet on soprano saxophone?
    (You may, indeed. Thanks for the reminder. Wells was on three Barnet sessions in late 1956. They are on this reissue CD:
    I’m fairly certain that Wells plays the solo on the bridge of “Lonely Street.” Among the other players on those sessions were Maynard Ferguson, Bill Holman, Barney Kessel and Willie Smith. Barnet always attracted good players. — DR)

  3. says

    Wonderful piece, Doug, and I really enjoyed revisiting the DBQ “Oberlin” album thanks to your feature on Ron Crotty. Although he doesn’t play it often, you might add trombonist Andy Martin to your list of bass trumpet players.

  4. Jon Foley says

    Even with the less-than-optimal audio, Ron Crotty’s bass playing is a revelation. I wish we had been able to hear him as well on the early Brubeck records. Frankly, I’d rather listen to him than several of the more prominent younger players around (names available upon request).
    Phipps sounds really good, too.

  5. Peter Kountz says

    Thank you, once again, for your wonderful posts, this time the “Crotty, Corman and Phipps” from April 29. I was struck with the rich similarities of this trio with The Rob McConnell trio, the one with Ed Bickert and Don Thompson (playing bass, not piano).Frank Phipps has a wonderfully relaxed,lyrical and fluid sound, much like McConnell’s playing on the trio albums. And there is a fascinating relationship between the bass trumpet and valve trombone and Phipps’ playing confirms this.
    Thanks again.

  6. says

    Ron and Frank are delightful gents and musical compatriots. Folks who are interested in the trio can always go to the http://www.tonycorman.com web site for updates.
    I’m also tracking a couple of other projects there, including music I’ve composed for Alan Ginsberg’s “Howl.” (This with a quintet, not the trio). Hope to pay it in Nov, but man, so far it’s an uphill battle…

  7. Fred Jardin says

    Saw Ron today sittin’ in with the All-Star band at the Oakland Museum.
    It was Ron Crotty on bass, Allen Klein on guitar, Brian Cooke and Bliss Rodriguez shared duty on piano.
    It was an afternoon party for the crew at the museum cafe. The place is going to close for renovations.

  8. Paul Wood says

    First got to know Ron Crotty at the Black Hawk in 1948 when we left our books and drawing boards behind in Berkeley to listen to the Brubeck Trio. Ron, Cal Tjader and, of course, Dave Brubeck made great music together. In between those evenings we wore out 45 rpm records while bent over the drawing board knocking out our latest designs at Cal. I’m so pleased to see that guys my age are still making music. I guess jazz keeps one young. I hope so, I listen to it a large part of every day.

  9. Ray H, Bournemouth, England says

    Jazz At Oberlin was the first jazz lp we had in my house when my older brother was sent abroad in the R.A.F and for a year it was the only lp we had, so i got to know every song real well. tell Ron thanks he helped open up the whole world of jazz to me. I wish him well.

  10. Carol Wehrwein Thomas says

    Ron Crotty and I were in the same fifth-sixth grade class in 1940-1941 in an elementary school in Oakland, CA, when Ron had flaming red hair and, at the time, no outward sign of musical talent!

  11. John Hawkridge says

    I just saw Ron today. He’s a fellow gardener at a community garden in Berkeley. He told me the trio has been working on a new cd which should be ready soon and is looking forward to playing at the Oakland Museum (Wed. thru Sun.) again once it opens in May(?).
    BTW, Ron can grow tomatoes and squash (almost) as good as he thumps out a tune!

  12. vanessa stafford says

    I met Ron Crotty when I was around 21 or so. He lived in Live Oak (CA) with two other musicians. We were talking about RAW garlic and decided to eat some and go to the local 7-11 and get really close to the clerk and see if we could bowl him over. We went in together and I saw Ron lean real close to the 7-11 clerk,and ask him where the potatoe chips were. but nothing happened. The clerk made no signs that anything was unusual. But I was laughing at Rons’ brazen attempt. You had to have seen it.

  13. says

    Ron and I played at the Oakland Museum every Sunday for 5 years. I’m a jazz guitarist and a close friend of Ron’s.
    I met Ron Crotty in January, 1974. He was living in Santa Cruz, California and playing in a trio with our good friend, Davis Ramey (a fantastic jazz guitarist of rare musical and technical ability). I was 24 years old, Ron was 44 (hard to believe that Ron was once 44 –however, he was 44 going on 10 and I was 24 going on 8. Now Ron’s 81 going on 61, and that’s certainly an improvement). Ron was living in another musician’s house (Kirby Leong –we’re all still close friends) and I wound up moving in. Ron was my roommate for about 4 years. What a crazy period that was in my life.
    Although I worked as an electronics engineer (I was in that business for over 30 years), I still played gigs, and always looked forward to playing with Ron Crotty.
    I’ve been playing gigs with Ron for over 36 years. Ron is the “Picasso of string bass players.” He’s a serious artist. That’s his nature (with the emphasis on nature). He’s always a top notch gardener/landscaper and writes poetry. Ron has certainly grown personally and musically (hard to separate the two). And yes –his hair was very red when I met him. Now (what’s left of it) is all white. I should talk –at least he had hair on the top of his head when he was 44 years old… Well, grass doesn’t grow on a busy street.

    • Doug Ramsey says

      Rifftides reader Mary Kenville Freeland sent the following reply to Allen Klein’s comment:

      I remember Ron, Kirby and Allen when Ron and Allen lived with Kirby. I was
      an old friend of Kirby’s who used to hang out with these guys. What
      great music they made. I really got an education about music being
      around them. I also remember going to see Ron Carter. I’m glad
      Ron is still alive and making music.

  14. David Weber says

    I met Ron 6 or 7 or more years ago when I first heard him playing at the Cheeseboard in Berkeley with Betty Shaw. I ran into Ron where I worked at the Fremont Main Library: Ron was living in Fremont at the time. I saw him at other spots in Fremont. We became good friends over time, and I became a semi-regular at the Oakland Museum on Sundays. Ron has been a great and very supportive friend, seeing me through some difficult periods. His knowledge of music, poetry, gardening, art and many more subjects have been special treats. He is a master of the stand-up bass who has enabled me to gain a better understanding of music by listening to him play.

  15. John Hawkridge says

    Thought some of you might like to know:
    Ron Crotty at Bobby G’s Sept. 11, 2010
    (A Certified Bay Area Green Business)
    Who: Crotty, Corman, Phipps Jazz Trio
    When: Sat, September 11, 2010, 8:30 PM – 11:00 PM
    Where: 2072 University Ave. Berkeley, CA 94704
    What: The return of the illustrious Crotty, Corman, Phipps Trio. These guys are real pros and always make great music. Ron Crotty used to play bass with Dave Brubeck, Cal Tjader, Vince Guaraldi, Sarah Vaughan… Need I say more? Oh, okay, the music at Bobby G’s Pizzeria is always FREE!

  16. Tom Storer says

    Just seeing this now–thanks! Sounds beautiful.
    Another fine bass trumpeter, who plays in a more modern style, is Chicago-based Ryan Shultz, who has recorded with drummer Damon Short as well as his own quartet.

  17. Fuzzy Corell says

    Ron is back at the Oakland Museum’s Blue Oak Cafe every Friday from noon to 2pm. He plays with a different piano player each week recently terry Rodriquez, Brian Cooke, Bliss Rodriquez, and another that I missed. They’re all great but the Ron – Bliss combo is really special. They’ve played together on and off for 10 years and you can tell. Head on down! Great music, good food, no admission cost and they’ll validate your parking too!

  18. Fuzzy Corell says

    Update: Unfortunately, Ron just told me his gig at the museum was cancelled again. Apparently neither the cafe nor the museum are drawing in too many visitors and the cafe owner decided he couldn’t afford Ron any more.. for now at least.

    Maybe if we got a bunch of folks to call ( 510-318-8400 museum, , 510-318-8571 cafe) and email (cafe owner: rd3@chefrobertdorsey.com; blueoak@museumca.org) and ask when Ron is playing again they’d bring him back.

    For those of you in the Bay Area, Ron will be playing with a guitarist and violinist at the Peralta Community Garden’s annual garden party this coming Sunday, Sept 25, 2011, at 2 pm. 1400 Peralta St, near Hopkins St. in Berkeley.