George Mraz, bassist of choice for jazz musicians, dies at 77
A favorite with audiences in Greater Boston and around the world, Mr. Mraz was 77 when he died on September 16. His wife, musician Camille Mraz, announced the death of Mr. Mraz on his Facebook page and did not say where he died. Its website says the couple lived in New York City.
A GoFundMe page was established in September 2016 to raise funds to cover medical bills after undergoing surgery on her pancreas.
In a 1999 profile for The Globe, music critic Bob Blumenthal praised Mr. Mraz’s “beautiful tone, propulsive time and lyrical instincts”.
Mr. Mraz’s playing for more than 30 years after arriving in Boston in the late 1960s had propelled him into “the world’s jazz elite,” Blumenthal wrote.
Performing throughout his career with many of the best jazz musicians, Mr. Mraz has taken the stage or appeared on albums with Chet Baker, Michael Brecker, Bill Evans, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock and Oscar Peterson. .
Often times when Mr. Mraz was part of an ensemble supporting a headlining star he would get noticed for his excellent playing, such as when he supported saxophonist Art Pepper in performances captured on the album “Thursday Night. at the Village Vanguard “.
“Drummer Elvin Jones, pianist George Cables and bassist George Mraz display an exquisite taste and low-key coexistence that seemingly allows Pepper to move around comfortably and without threat,” Globe critic Ernie Santosuosso wrote in a review of the released in 1980.
By 1984, Mr. Mraz was already “one of the best bassists in jazz,” Blumenthal wrote after a performance in Boston.
Although he has been “hailed as the accomplished accompanist,” according to Bass Musician magazine, Mr. Mraz has also taken on leadership roles for his own album and performance projects.
“Musically, it was pretty easy for me because I had certain ideas, and over the years I discovered that you can’t really change people,” he told the magazine. “You can never tell people exactly what to do. So you’re just trying to find a way to bring your concepts into the music, and their concepts, and let them do what they do.
Even after record companies started releasing George Mraz albums, such as 1996’s “Jazz”, he worked comfortably with others.
“I don’t really think about fitting in,” Mraz told The Globe in 1999, the year “Duke’s Place”, a tribute to Duke Ellington, was published under his name. “I’m just trying to fit in, sometimes playing a little less, sometimes a little more. It’s different for everyone, although you can pretty much tell right away if it will work. Sometimes you think playing with a particular musician is going to be perfect, then find out that it isn’t. But these days I don’t have too many surprises.
Jiri Mraz was born on September 9, 1944 in the city of Pisek, which is now part of the Czech Republic. In the United States, his name was George, an American version of his name.
Mr. Mraz recalled in the Bass Musician interview that growing up in what was then Czechoslovakia he “used to record Voice of America shows, and due to the poor recording quality At that time, I never really heard the bass so well. . So I was more or less trying to imitate other instruments that I could hear clearly. I always listened to the melodic approach from which the soloist came.
He told The Globe that he “had already played saxophone before bass”.
When he was a student at the Prague Conservatory, “I played every night in clubs in Prague. My teacher heard me play a bow solo on the radio in my second year, and during my lesson the next day he said, “What I heard was horrible! But can you show me how you did it? ‘ “
In a tribute published on the London Jazz News website, Czech pianist Emil Viklický told a story Mr. Mraz told him about how his father was killed in a streetcar crash, when a Soviet tank hit the car in which the elder Mraz was riding.
“George learned that half a minute before impact, his father had offered his seat to an old lady, who entered the vehicle at the previous station ”, Viklický wrote. “She survived the scene without any injuries. Because the incident involved a Russian, Czech police were barred from pursuing the case. This incident significantly contributed to George’s decision to leave the country.
Mr. Mraz ended up in Boston at Berklee, where a faculty member immediately launched his career in the United States. “Pianist Ray Santisi gave him a regular concert from the first day of his arrival”, Viklický wrote.
In the mid-1970s, Mr. Mraz became an American citizen, and a quarter of a century will pass before his first return visit to his homeland, to perform at a festival.
In the years that followed, he spent some 20 years, after Berklee, in New York City as one of the first players in the jazz scene – the best musician for every instrument on the concert must-see list. and records.
In his tribute, Viklický called Mr. Mraz “one of the greatest jazz bassists of all time”.
The names of all of Mr. Mraz’s survivors were not immediately available.
“I wish to express my deep and sincere gratitude for all of the many calls, letters, messages and other expressions of sympathy for our recent loss of George, our mutual and heartfelt loss of my best friend and partner. You all know he was one of the best musicians of our time ”, his wife, Camille, posted on his Facebook page on Monday.
“One of George’s last wishes was that you remember him for who he was and who he was, how you remember him personally in your hearts and let no commemorative or public tribute be organized to honor him, ”wrote Camilla, pianist, songwriter and singer. “I will honor these wishes and pray that you do too.”
Mr. Mraz told Bass Musician that his classical training was beneficial for jazz in that it “helped me to better master the bass. Leaning on the instrument certainly helps you play more accurately.
As for the genre in which he made a name for himself, “to tell the truth, I hardly ever played jazz,” he added. “I graduated from the Prague Conservatory in 66 and played jazz almost every night in one of the clubs. I played so much that I didn’t really have time to train. I spent time practicing my classical equipment, but mostly I learned everything at the bandstand.
Bryan Marquard can be reached at [email protected]