Bob Cranshaw + Kay Starr

Bob Cranshaw (1932-2016), a Chicago-born jazz bassist who began recording in 1957 and became a significant force in the 1960s starting with Sonny Rollins’ seminal album The Bridge, in 1962, died on Nov. 2. He was 83.

At a time when even the best jazz bassists seemed interchangeable to the average listener, Bob’s playing stood out with sensitivity and grace. It has been said that while jazz groups play for audiences, bassists play for soloists, serving largely as time-keepers. This was true of Bob as well. But he also gave songs a congenial benchmark, leading the ear without crowding it with information and providing soloists with a friendly, rock-solid support.

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Bob continued with Sonny after The Bridge, recording on several important albums with the tenor saxophonist in 1963, including live dates in New York and on Sonny Meets Hawk! At the end of ’63, the demand for Bob skyrocketed, and he began playing on major recordings for Blue Note. These included Grant Green’s Idle Moments and Matador, Lee Morgan’s Tom Cat and The Sidewinder (on which he created perhaps his most famous jazz-funk bassline), Bobby Hutcherson’s The Kicker and Stanley Turrentine’s The Hustler. This is just a sampling of his recordings for multiple artists and labels between late ’63 and late ’64.

As evidenced by 1963 alone, Bob was tireless. In ’64, he was on dozens of albums, including Wes Montgomery’s Movin’ Wes for Verve, Duke Pearson’s Wahoo! and Joe Henderson’s Inner Urge. From 1965 on, Bob seemed to be recording every five days. His energy and firm tenderness on the bass were in steady demand, rivaled perhaps only by Ron Carter and George Duvivier in the sheer number of recording sessions.

Three recording that stand out for me:

Here’s Bob on Where Are You from Sonny Rollins’ The Bridge

Here’s Bob on Jean De Fleu from Grant Green’s Idle Moments. Dig Bob’s rock solid yet caressing bass line, setting the pace and pulling you forward…

Here’s Bob on Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder

And here’s what Bob told Bret Primack in 2010 about his groovy bassline on The Sidewinder

Kay Starr (1922-2016),
a pop singer with a taut, conversational singing voice who could bend notes, add humor and pain to renditions, and cross virtually all genres in the 1940s and ’50s, died on Nov. 3. She was 94.

In many respects, Starr was at heart a proto-country singer dressed up in jazz and pop trimmings. When Starr was coming up as a solo pop singer in the early 1950s, the female country voice had not yet evolved to a point where emotions and perspective were fully expressed. Instead, Starr was often pitted against Dinah Washington on the jukebox.

Remarkably, the two had many vocal traits in common, including power on the drawl, a refined tremolo on held notes, a sighing heartbreak feel, and a take-charge style on songs. And the admiration was mutual. For example, Washington’s Wheel of Fortune in 1952 was actually a cover of Starr’s version in 1951 (which had been a cover, of Johnny Hartman’s original that same year).

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Of course, no one could touch Washington on the blues. But Starr’s vocal style became so iconic in the pop realm that it inspired other gifted female vocalists with a similar sound, including Teresa Brewer and Brenda Lee. Much of Starr’s catalog consisted of pop fare for Capitol with a jazzy feel in the arrangements. But she also had astonishing artistic moments.

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For example, perhaps Starr’s finest album is I Cry By Night, recorded for Capitol in October 1961. The album instantly erased any notion that the singer was a jazz poseur. On this album, Starr was joined by Ben Webster (ts), Gerald Wiggins (p), Al Hendrickson (g), Joe Comfort (b) and Lee Young (d). Her taste and soul here put her in league with any jazz singer of the day. A shame she didn’t record a few more like it.

JazzWax tracks: You’ll find Kay Starr’s I Cry By Night here.

JazzWax clips: Here’s Starr in 1947 recording Then I’ll Be Tired of You, with Arnold Ross (p, celeste), Dan Lube (vln), George Van Eps (g), Billy Hadnott (b) and Lee Young (d)…

Then I’ll Be Tired of You

Here’s Starr in 1947 recording I Haven’t Changed a Thing, with Dick Anderson (cl), Dave Cavanaugh (ts), Red Norvo (vib), Arnold Ross (p), Jack Marshall (g), Red Callender (b) and Jack Turner (d)…

I Haven’t Changed a Thing

Here’s My Kind of Love from I Cry By Night

My Kinda Love

And here’s Starr in 1963 singing The Good Life