While doing some purging of my belongings, I found some photos today of my friend who recently made his transition home. Dec. 2nd will be one month to the day and finding these photos made me sit down and quietly reflect on him:
It was sometime in the early seventies when my family consisting of my Dad, my Mom, my Sister Bobbie and my Brother Alex Blake was driving Alex from our home in Queens, NY to drop him off at his apartment on the upper west side of Manhattan.
When he got out of the car there was the traditional goodbyes taking place between us when we looked up to notice a gentlemen coming down the street walking his dog.
He stopped and from the back seat I could hear, “Hey Alex…and then Hey Bob, what’s happening man…” They slapped fives, shook hands and hugged while laughing about the random coincidence of it all.
Alex then said, “C’mon over, I want you to meet my family…” That was the first time I had ever met Mr. Bob Cranshaw. After cordially greeting my Mom and Dad in the front seat, he said a very nice hello and waved to my Sister sitting next to me in the back seat. He then extended his hand through the back window to shake mine while I simultaneously listened to Alex describe him as one of the greatest musicians in the world of music.
As a child, I had no idea how far that Divinely-ordained humble meeting with the firm handshake would go in impacting my life as a musician and as a bassist:
On Bebop, Swing and Straight-ahead Jazz music, I learned from him just how important it is for the Bass to employ simplicity. For example, intermittently using the one and five when walking holds down the groove, keeps the swing intact and gives the song some much needed rhythmic and harmonic air so that the soloist can reach a lot higher when playing.
He was the first cat I ever heard use that simple pattern and in so doing control the pulse, the colors, the dynamics and the attitude of the band. Bro. Bob’s groove style was so rhythmically set, ingeniously uncomplicated and yet just like the texture of water, it was fluid all at the same time.
Listening and watching him hold down the tempo was his own virtuoso way of playing. He was so successful in transferring the feel of the Upright Bass effortlessly to that of the Electric that at times, if you closed your eyes and listened, you really couldn’t tell the difference. He was truly the heart of the band in every situation I’ve heard him play in. His style of playing allows the rest of the band to have that centered tempo bass as the focal point for the song to evolve from. A lot of bassists that
I hear play today lack that pure definition of the role the bass is supposed to play.
As a child growing up, I grooved to his bass lines like millions of other children listening and glued to the screen watching Sesame Street and The Electric Company in the sixties. I laughed while being moved and grooved to his bass lines while watching Saturday Night Live in the seventies.
As a young Man in the eighties, I remember escorting my Mom to a performance of “Lena Horne: A Lady And Her Music…” on Broadway, in NY. Of course Lena was phenomenal, but it was Bob on Bass and Grady Tate on drums with such a powerful groove and a consistent swing that all Lena could do was soar from the foundation of it all.
When I first got the gig with Sonny Rollins, at my audition Sonny and I had a conversation about Bass players. Sonny wanted to gauge my knowledge of history about the instrument. He told me that Bob’s playing style allows him (Sonny) to go as far as he needs to go when he’s soloing and improvising because he can trust Bob to keep both the foundation of time and harmonic relevance. He said he did not want me to play like Bob, but to do my own thing.
Yet, what he needed from me was to keep the principles of Bob’s playing so that when he’s soloing he can always count on me to have his back with the time and the chord changes no matter how far the journey his solo is taking the band.
When I was coming up in NY amongst a community of phenomenal and creative musicians, it was and still is mandatory for your growth and education to listen to the iconic and innovative players of all music.
When I think of all the albums where Bob was the bassist and how on a subconscious level, he greatly influenced my own conception and perceptions of the Bass. From his recorded work with Carmen McCrae to Wes Montgomery; Sonny Rollins to Horace Silver; Grant Green to Dexter Gordon; Tony Bennett to Milt Jackson; Oscar Peterson to Paul Simon; Shirley Scott to Lee Morgan and so many more great artists he recorded with which amounts to a literal who’s who spanning over 60 years of music.
The magnitude of Bob’s bass work and his contribution to both music and the music industry cannot be quantified in this writing.
It’s better left to be taught in a conservatory or university curriculum alongside the great bassists who were some of his contemporaries like Paul Chambers, Charlie Mingus, Reggie Workman, Jimmy Garrison, Henry Grimes, Richard Davis, Milt Hinton, Ray Brown, Ron Carter, George Morrow, George Duvivier, Percy Heath and the cat’s who influenced Bob like Scott LaFaro, Arvell Shaw, Bob Haggart, Slam Stewart and Jimmy Blanton.
When his stepson, the great Bassist Tom Barney opened the door for me to do substitute bass work for him on Broadway/NY playing the Bass chair in The Lion King, my Upright Bass at that time was in Los Angeles. Bro. Bob in not wanting me to lose the gig, called me and said he had my back and asked me to go to an address in Brooklyn.
He wanted me to check out an Upright owned by a Bassist who it turned out years before was the house bassist for Prestige Records. That gentleman was suffering from Multiple Sclerosis and his challenges forced him to begin selling all of his belongings for money to survive. Bob in wanting to create a win-win situation for the both of us gave me $1500 to give to the gentlemen to purchase the bass and then spent $2000 on repairing it and getting it cleaned up and gig ready along with a brand new case, bridge, pickups, bows, centerpiece and a wheel. Btw, Bob never asked me for a dime back and said it was a gift.
In the subsequent years that followed, every time I came back to NY to work with Clifton Anderson, Bro. Bob would selflessly and generously allow me to use his prized Upright Czech Bass both for the rehearsals and the gigs.
Once when he found out I was in NY on business, he called me and asked me if I could meet him at the Musicians Union.
Upon arriving to his office he brought out a beautiful brand new brown leather Hamburg Electric Bass Case. He had just returned from Germany where he told me the company gave him one in Black and one in Brown. He told me he gave the Black one to Tom and wanted me to have the Brown one.
Lastly, I would constantly get surprise calls from him telling me he was listening to my electric bass solo cd’s and was so very proud and impressed of the direction I was taking the instrument.
He would always say: “Man, I listen to you playing that bass and it makes my fingers hurt…lol….how in the heck are you reaching for and playing those different chords…”
I would then share my limited knowledge of the Bass while respectfully pivoting to interview him about his incredible journey on the instrument.
The last time I saw Bro. Bob was a few years ago backstage after a performance with Sonny Rollins at Symphony Hall in San Francisco. We laughed, joked around, talked shop about bass, the music and then took some pics. His sound and playing that night was impeccable as always. The tone, the feel, the groove and his melodic solos, especially on the ballads, were just beautiful. It inspired me and made me go home and study my instrument.
Always generous and possessed with a spirit that always brings calm, clarity and light into every room. He was selfless and always going the extra mile to help anyone and everyone. The Brother was so musical in every way even when not playing and expressed himself with a keen sense of humor and observation that made you laugh but opened up your eyes at the same time.
Because of his incredible musical contribution and now his physical absence, the Bass chair will never again be the same…
Please keep his Beloved Family lifted up in prayer. IJPN.
MUSIC: “20 Angels & 6 Golden Souls…” by Russel Blake.