Braff and Barnes: busy hating each other

October 25, 2009 at 7:51 pm (jazz, Jim D, strange situations)

I’ve just obtained a CD reissue of an LP by one of the finest “mainstream” jazz groups from the 1970’s: the Ruby Braff – George Barnes Quartet  (on “Jazz Lips” JL 765). The interplay between Braff’s cornet and Barnes’ guitar is so close and sympathetic that the listener assumes that these two musicians must have been very, very close both musically and personally.

The truth is that, despite the self-evident  musical empathy,  they hated each other.

The bassist Bill Crow  recounts how he once depped with the group, which was a tightly-organised little outfit and Bill had listened closely to their records in order to familiarise himself with their routines. On the night, he was pleased with his own performance and disappointed that neither Braff nor Barnes said anything to him. He mentioned this to the band’s rhythm guitarist Wayne Wright, who replied: “don’t worry: they’re too busy hating each other.” 

There used to be some film of the Braff / Barnes group on Youtube, but for some reason it’s disappeard. Here’s a very similar group, with Howard Alden in place of George Barnes, and a drummer (the tasty Oliver Jackson) added:



  1. jazzlives said,

    No matter how earnestly people try to apologize or extenuate, the brilliant cornetist didn’t care what other people thought, and he didn’t run away from controversy — but took positions most guaranteed to inflame. He could be unpredictably sweet in person (shoving his plate of half-eaten Italian food to us, two perpetually starving college students, one night at the Half Note) but his discourse was so often peppered with “that asshole” and “this idiot” and “Him? He’s a moron.” that the listener who had innocently, say, dropped a name, was made to feel foolish for having done so. How such beauty came from such irritability is a mystery . . . but it did. The irony is that Ruby initially was thrilled with George’s playing and asked him to form a quartet — but the two men were inflexible, each thinking HIS way was the only way, and it’s a wonder the quartet lasted as long as it did. Had Ruby lived another ten years, he might have run out of people who would play with him. But his music is untouchably lovely!

    Now for self-promotion: I’ve added you to my blogroll. If you visit my blog ( you might enjoy my piece on my first meeting with Ruby, an experience I have been assured was typical of the man.

    Cheers, Michael Steinman

  2. Jim Denham said,


    Like you, I met Braff and found him a charming and amusing conversationalist. But I was aware of his reputation. There’s a marvellous interview with him, by Jim Godbolt (quite a curmudgeon himself) that originally appeared in the ‘Jazz at Ronnie Scott’s’ magazine edited by Godbolt (JARS 142, 1996), and more recently reprinted in ‘Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Farrago’ (Hampstead Press 2008). It’s well worth reading as Braff becomes more and more annoyed by Godbolt and (verabally) abusive, to the point where the interview very nearly comes to a premature and rancourous halt…until Godbolt humours Braff and just about appeases him .

    Thanks for adding us to your blogroll. I’ll ask Volty (who deals with the technical side of things here) to reciprocate…but bear in mind the fact that we’re primarily a political site with just the occassional jazz piece by me and other some musical and cultural stuff from Rosie. Your readers might not appreciate being linked us.

  3. jazzlives said,

    Dear Jim,

    Maybe you’re right . . . I try to be very apolitical on the site, so perhaps a mutual linking isn’t a great idea. But — you have my email address, and when you do write jazz pieces, I’d be happy to give them some notice now and again on my site if you’d like. Or we can embrace the status quo and move on to things that need fixing more! (But as much as I admire Ruby’s music, as I got less naive — I first met him when I was 19 and the last time when I was in my early thirties) I would have had to stretch to call him “a charming and amusing conversationalist.” My friends and I were at his Riverdale apartment twice — the first time a cheerful jazz party where we played records; the second time Ruby had got some political idea in his head that we absolutely had to write our Congressmen and Senators about or else we all would be put in concentration camps immediately, not tomorrow. My friend Stu pooh-poohed the urgency of Ruby’s fears and Ruby verbally cut him into little bits, not neatly. We were young and adulatory so we tried not to let it matter, but he was a rather dangerously angry person who didn’t seem to want to change . . . in fact he seemed to delight in cultivating his reputation as bad-mannered, which is putting it mildly. Onwards! And thanks — Michael

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