The music world lost one of the most prolific providers of bottom end when bassist Bob Cranshaw passed away yesterday. I first heard Bob live right after I began college in 1992, when I went with my friend Jeff Grace (now an acclaimed film composer) to hear his former teacher and one of my heroes, James Williams. It was at Tavern on the Green and while I was already a big fan of JW’s work, I was really taken by how hard the rhythm section (Bob and Billy Drummond) was swinging. I was fairly familiar with Bob’s work, though I didn’t actually realize at that point that he was mostly playing electric bass, something that in one sense makes it all the more special in hindsight that he was playing the upright bass so elegantly and effortlessly.
These are some of my favorite performances of Bob’s. With hundreds and hundreds of records to his credit, many of them classic, I had to leave off a lot of important ones, including some that I particularly love by Max Roach, Barry Harris, Jaki Byard, Eddie Harris, Duke Pearson, Grant Green, Shirley Scott, Yusef Lateef, Mary Lou Williams, and Joe Locke (as well as Stanley Turrentine, Bobby Hutcherson, and Wayne Shorter, who are at least represented below as sidemen).
The list is in chronological order rather than order of preference. All these tracks are in-print, so treat yourself to some listening today in Mr. Cranshaw’s memory.
1 ) “Egyptic” from Daddy-O Presents MJT +3 (by MJT +3)
Bob’s first session, from even before this group added Frank Strozier and Harold Mabern. He swings wonderfully and takes a nice solo – this is also fun for hearing Richard Abrams (not yet Muhal) playing in a straight-ahead context.
2 ) “Them There Eyes” from Carmen McRae Sings Lover Man and Other Billie Holiday Classics (by Carmen McRae).
I love Bob’s work with singers, and this early example of his accompanying work is particularly fun, as Carmen’s opening reading of the melody features only the accompaniment of Bob and his MJT +3 bandmate, drummer Walter Perkins. Then the rest of the band (Lockjaw Davis, Norman Simmons, Mundell Lowe, and eventually Nat Adderley) enter and things start cooking on another level.
3 ) “Without A Song” from The Bridge (by Sonny Rollins)
Of course, Bob’s more than 50 year relationship with Sonny Rollins can’t be overlooked. It just so happens that my favorite of these moments of Bob is the first track (though not the first-recorded track) of their first record together. Between the extended bass solo and the relatively sparse playing of Jim Hall and Ben Riley sparse playing, Bob really gets room to shine on this infectiously swinging tune.
4 ) “The Coaster” from Evolution (by Grachan Moncur, III)
Though perhaps most associated with straight-ahead jazz, Bob was far from conservative. His thumping bass fits in perfectly with Bobby Hutcherson’s vibes and Tony Williams’ crackling drums on this track (and the innovative record from which it comes), also of course featuring Jackie McLean and Lee Morgan.
5 ) “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” from Inside Betty Carter (by Betty Carter)
Another vocal track, and an opportunity to show off Bob’s way with a ballad. Betty certainly kept her band on its toes, and Bob keeps things buoyant through all the twists and turns.
6 ) “Inner Urge” from Inner Urge (by Joe Henderson)
Quick: your top ten classic jazz albums (by non-bassists) in which the first solo on the record is by the bassist. Okay, time’s up. Really, though, what knocks me out most is not Bob’s solo but the way in which he, McCoy Tyner, and Elvin Jones keep things so propulsive without lapsing into predictability. Bob could walk quarter notes with the best of them, but this reinforces how much else he had up his sleeve.
7 ) “You Go to My Head” from The Gigolo (by Lee Morgan)
Bob is responsible for many memorable bass lines on “groove” tunes. While “The Sidewinder” is probably the most popular, I have always loved the line that he and Harold Mabern play atop a Billy Higgins groove as a recurring pattern throughout this utterly delightful arrangement that also features Wayne Shorter.
8 ) “Serenade to a Soul Sister” from Serenade to a Soul Sister (by Horace Silver)
I almost picked Psychedelic Sally to demonstrate an early example of his electric playing (in the context of his extensive work with Horace) but decided instead on this track from the same session. This bluesy yet harmonically and rhythmically modern waltz features Stanley Turrentine and Charles Tolliver in the front line, and it’s fascinating to hear how Bob and Billy Cobham find the sweet spot of addressing that modernity yet keeping it soulful as one would expect from Horace.
9 ) “Delores St S.F.” from Sunset to Dawn (by Kenny Barron)
In a sense this is a contrast to the previous track. That is, here we get to check out Bob’s nuanced mastery of the electric bass in a straight-ahead context, on Kenny’s ethereal waltz/ballad also featuring Freddie Waits and the atmospheric percussion of Warren Smith and Richard “Pablo” Landrum.
10 ) “Send In the Clowns” from Sa Va Bella (for Lady Legends) by Milt Jackson
Have you ever wanted to hear this melancholy Sondheim waltz swung like crazy? Well then Milt Jackson’s your man. Which, of course, he should be anyway. It seems fitting to wrap up the list with one of the last recordings by Milt’s great quartet with Bob, Mike LeDonne, and Mickey Roker.