Ron Carter Talks Detroit Jazz Fest, Remembers Van Gelder

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Ron Carter will serve as artist-in-residence of the 2016 Detroit Jazz Festival, which takes place Sept. 2–5 in downtown Detroit.

(Photo: Fortnuna Sung)

You’re a Detroit native. When was the last time you spent considerable time in the city?

I was in Detroit with Pat Metheny for the jazz fest last year, and I came out a day early to do some press for the event. One of the drivers made some time for me to go visit my neighborhood. I was quite surprised to see that all the neighborhoods that I grew up in are now no longer there—by way of the new highways that tore through the city or abandonment by the local residents. It was a little depressing.

What is it going to take to restore the city’s arts and cultural scene?

What it’s going to take is people coming back to the city. The residents have stop [moving] to the outer suburbs. They need to give Detroit a chance again so that [public officials] can create the services, the facilities, the educational systems that will foster an environment that makes people feel at home. People should feel comfortable going out and hearing some music at 9 o’clock at night. Right now, [the city] is slowly growing that back. Hopefully, within the next four or five years, we’ll witness real stability, so that Detroit can be the city it was when I grew up there, 50 years ago.

Earlier this year, you released the album Chemistry with saxophonist Houston Person. That had to be one of the last records Rudy Van Gelder really worked on.

Yes, I think it was.

What was it like working with Rudy? What was so special about his touch?

Yesterday I was at the memorial service for Rudy, and it was hard for me to even get my head wrapped around the fact that this person, who I’ve been recording with since 1960, was gone. At that time, bassists were just starting to use pickups and amplifiers, and so we would explore: “What’s this pickup sound like? And what do these strings sound like with this pickup?” Rudy was really a scientist, and I appreciated his interest in trying to make the bass sound on disc as well as it good as it did to our ear. I haven’t seen that kind of pure dedication in a very long time.

But what impressed me with this Chemistry record was that Rudy—who was really not feeling great at this stage—was willing and interested to take a posed picture with me. He would never do that, man. He was always in the background making records, marking the tape, always working. He never took the time out to volunteer and be a part of a group shot. And this is one of his last group shots. I went to his 90th birthday party last year and saw that his health was starting to fade, but he had spirit. To know that he closed his eyes for the last time ... well, there will not be another Rudy on this planet. DB

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