New York Jazz Luminaries Remember One of Their Own: Bob Cranshaw

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Kenny Barron (left), Reggie Workman, Al Foster and Jimmy Heath participate in a memorial ceremony for bassist Bob Cranshaw at St. Peter’s Church in New York City on Jan. 30.

(Photo: Jonathan Chimene)

New York’s St. Peter’s Church was packed to the rafters on Jan. 26. Dozens of spectators crowded into the venue’s balcony gazing down over the hundreds of others that filled the chapel to celebrate the life of bassist Bob Cranshaw, who passed away on Nov. 2, 2016. Opening remarks from family, friends and fellow musicians, including Sonny Rollins band alumni Steve Jordan, Clifton Anderson and Bobby Broom, unanimously lauded Cranshaw not only for his versatile musicianship, but for his love of people and the generosity of spirit that was evidenced in tireless work with the American Federation of Musicians and the Jazz Foundation of America.

Sentiments that were echoed throughout the evening in messages from Sonny Rollins and President Bill Clinton and spoken tributes by Danny Glover, Mickey Roker and many other artists who had come to fete the man they both loved and respected.

Following a short film by Hart Perry documenting Cranshaw’s decades long career not only as a superlative jazz artist but as a pioneering television studio musician on Sesame Street and Saturday Night Live, the music got off to a stirring start with the trio of Monty Alexander, Buster Williams and Al Foster playing a lively rendition of “Broadway,” a favorite song of Cranshaw and an appropriate choice considering the late bassist’s notable tenures in theater pit bands.

The program, which alternated testimonials with musical performances, reached a high point with the quartet of Jimmy Heath, Kenny Barron, Reggie Workman and Foster and their soulful rendition of “I Remember You,” on which Heath, following his swinging solo, led the audience in clapping time on two and four as Barron soloed with inspired abandon, followed Workman and finally Foster, who traded fours with the others for a rousing finish.

Mike LeDonne, with whom Cranshaw would regularly sit in at the keyboardist’s Tuesday night Groover Quartet organ gig at the venue Smoke on the Upper West Side, took to the piano to lead a group, featuring Vincent Herring, Buster Williams and Joe Farnsworth on his “Awwlright!”, a blues drenched tribute to Cranshaw, the phonetically spelled title of which stems from the bassist’s signature expression of animated approval, so familiar to all who knew him well.

Loving musical tributes were delivered by Ron Carter, who rendered a virtuoso extended solo bass recital of “You Are My Sunshine” and Maurice Hines, (accompanied by pianist Frank Owens), crooning a heartfelt reading of “Too Marvelous For Words” directly to the portrait of Cranshaw that graced the chapel’s altar.

The mood of the room lightened with Sammy Figueroa’s riotous recounting of his road escapades with Cranshaw, which had the audience roaring with laughter, after which the conguero further enlivened things, coleading with pianist Mike Longo (who played a moving solo “Memories Of You”) an ensemble fittingly dubbed The Latin Jazz All Stars, featuring a frontline of trumpeter Eddie Allen, saxophonist Lenny Pickett and trombonist Papo Vazquez, propelled by the percussion section with bongocero Jose Clausell, timbalero Jimmy Delgado and fellow conga player, the legendary Candid Camero.

Javon Jackson, Russell Malone, Christian McBride, Buster Williams and Billy Hart played a blistering version of “The Bridge,” the title track of the classic Sonny Rollins album that marked Cranshaw’s first recording with the iconic tenor saxophonist, beginning a partnership that would last more than fifty years.

The gospel group of pianist/vocalist Darnell Crawford lifted spirits high with their soul stirring interpretation of James Taylor’s “You’ve Got A Friend” before the music closed out with the horns of Cecil Bridgewater, Ron Blake and Clifton Anderson, joined by Steve Jordan and Barry Harris, who stood center stage to sing his lyric, “It’s Not Goodbye, But So Long” before sitting at the piano for Lee Morgan’s “The Sidewinder.” He was joined by an ensemble of bassists, including Alex Blake, Russell Blake, Gerald Cannon, Tony Garnier, Tony Lanin, John Lee, Seth Lewis and McBride playing the song’s indelible vamp, first laid down “in the pocket” by Cranshaw. DB