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Ron Rubin 1933-2020

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Among many distinctions, the bassist Ron Rubin, whose death on April 14 was announced in the Hampstead and Highgate Gazette, was playing with a trad jazz band led by the banjoist Ralph “Bags” Watmough on the opening night of the Cavern Club in his native Liverpool in 1957. He went on to a long career in the mainstream and modern idioms, with the bands of Humphrey Lyttelton, Sandy Brown and Al Fairweather, Tony Coe, Bruce Turner, John Picard, George Melly and John Chilton, Tony Milliner and many others. He played with such visiting Americans as Will Bill Davison, Billy Eckstine, Red Allen and Ray Nance, and in the freewheeling spirit of the time he was also briefly a member of Long John Baldry’s Hoochie Coochie Men and the New Departures jazz and poetry group.

One gig about which he had mixed feelings was his collaboration with the brilliant but ill-fated pianist and composer Mike Taylor, on whose second and final LP, Trio, he appeared in 1967. Rubin played with Taylor at various times between 1962 and 1968, notably at the Little Theatre Club and Ronnie Scott’s Old Place, the two crucibles of the “new thing” in London in the late ’60s, and his diary entries provided the author Luca Ferrari with valuable information for his valuable biography of the pianist, Out of Nowhere.

Rubin recognised Taylor’s talent, but he was uneasy about the avant-garde. He was even less comfortable when Taylor, his hitherto conservative personality and appearance transformed by LSD, started turning up for gigs barefoot and declining to play the piano, preferring a broken clay drum and some sort of flute. Taylor’s friends, such as the trumpeter Henry Lowther, feared he had lost his mind. In 1968 three of his tunes were recorded by Cream for Wheels of Fire, with lyrics by Ginger Baker, who had been his trio’s first drummer. The following year his body was washed up on the Essex shore. The coroner gave an open verdict, but suicide of some sort was assumed. He was 31.

The point of this, anyway, is not to rehearse the Mike Taylor legend. Trio is one of the great albums of British jazz, a document of such originality and confidence that it can still astound, and Ron Rubin was a part of it. Alongside the drummer Jon Hiseman, he appears on all but one of the eight tracks. He is the only bassist on “All the Things You Are”, “Just a Blues”, “The End of a Love Affair” and “Abena”, a wonderful ballad. He is joined by Jack Bruce on “While My Lady Sleeps”, “Two Autumns” and “Guru”. Bruce is the only bassist on “Stella by Starlight”. So, not exactly a trio, but never mind.

As so often happens with music on the cusp of a new movement, the standards are the listener’s way in. I suppose if you were to form a triangle with the young Cecil Taylor, Lennie Tristano and Bill Evans at its points, Mike Taylor might be somewhere in the middle, although he was no plagiarist. This was high-tension music, operating at a demanding intellectual level, requiring great commitment and creativity from all its participants, and Ron Rubin’s strong, assured and inventive playing was a big part of it, whatever his own feelings may have been at the time. (He was disconcerted, for example, when Taylor’s refused to give him the changes for “The End of a Love Affair”, which he didn’t know, telling him to play without them.) I hope he came to understand the esteem in which it is held today.

* The photograph of Ron Rubin with Mike Taylor in the early ’60s is from Luca Ferrari’s Out of Nowhere: The Uniquely Elusive Jazz of Mike Taylor, published by Gonzo Multimedia in 2015. Both Mike Taylor’s albums, Pendulum and Trio, were originally released in Columbia’s Lansdowne Series. The latter was reissued on CD in 2004 in Gilles Peterson’s Impressed Re-pressed series but is no longer available. (Pendulum — on which Rubin doesn’t appear — has never been properly reissued; the two vinyl copies currently for sale on the internet are priced at £1,280.01 and £1,372.95.)

17 Comments Post a comment
  1. Tony Higgins #

    with Ron’s passing, it seems Dave Tomlin is the last surviving link to Mike Taylor. Some years ago I pitched a radio doc about Taylor to the BBC but they passed. Would have been good to get Ron – plus Jack Bruce and Jon Hiseman – on tape talking about the enigma that was Taylor. Perhaps it’s fitting he remains a mystery.

    April 29, 2020
  2. Interestingly, Out of Nowhere is also the principal title of a biography of Warne Marsh, issued in 2002.

    April 29, 2020
  3. Thank you Richard for once again opening my eyes and ears. I love to read about people I knew nothing about, like travekling to a new country or continent, all within the confines of lockdown!

    April 29, 2020
  4. Ron Rubin can also be remembered for his wry sense of humour, shown in his books of limericks. Humphrey Lyttelton’s ‘Introduction’ to the first edition commented that ‘musicians have a style of humour all to themselves.’ And he recognised the ‘profound truth’ in Ron’s limericks, quoting the example of the trombonist called Herb “… whose playing, though loud, was superb; when neighbours complained, young Herbert explained ‘But great art is meant to disturb!'”.’

    April 29, 2020
  5. Trio is terrific, but I also remember Ron Rubin for some ‘Anglicised’ song titles that he contributed to the Ronnie Scott’s magazine, including ‘Drop Me Off in Harlesden’ and ‘Do You Know What It Means to Miss MIlton Keynes?’.

    April 29, 2020
  6. Ron was also a very good haiku poet, who contributed regularly to Presence, the journal I used to co-edit His covering letters were always a joy to read, and much more so than the usual contributors’ letters.

    April 29, 2020
  7. daveheasman #

    I see Laurie Morgan left us this week, too. Used to see him often, the other great drummer/organiser of N London.

    (The above isn’t *the* Bob Davenport is it? If so Riv says Hi)

    April 29, 2020
    • I’ll ask my wife when she gets back. Meanwhile I’ll settle for ‘a Bob Davenport’.

      April 29, 2020
      • daveheasman #

        Oh well worth a try – the other one’s pushing 90 and in another bag..

        April 29, 2020
  8. Tim Powis #

    Hi Ken,

    Thought the attached obit might be of interest. Never heard of Ron Rubin, the guy who died, but there’s an interesting bit about Mike Taylor, a pianist Rubin played with, who went from strait-laced jazz guy to barefoot acid head and co-wrote some Cream songs with Ginger Baker (including “Pressed Rat and Wart Hog”). The music linked to in the obit (with Jon Hiseman on drums and, in one case, Rubin and Jack Bruce on bass) is worth hearing.

    Hope you’re all still doing well.

    Tim >

    April 29, 2020
    • Many thanks for the useful jazz history in this obit Richard.

      For those interested in the Mike Taylor link, there’s an informative article about Mike Taylor by Duncan Heining here:
      https://www.allaboutjazz.com/the-not-so-strange-and-bizarre-life-of-mike-taylor-mike-taylor-by-duncan-heining.php?pg=4

      Mike Taylor is someone who had vanished from British Jazz just as I was starting to get to know it. His two vinyl albums fetch eye-watering prices and are not easy to obtain on CD either. But some kind soul has uploaded both ‘Pendulum’ and The ‘Trio’ albums to YouTube. The ‘Pendulum’ album is the whole thing in one video and the ‘Trio’ album is the 8 individual tracks. Worth searching out if you haven’t heard them, which I have yet to do myself.

      April 29, 2020
  9. Matthew Wright #

    Nice to remember him, Richard. Ron was an interesting and witty bloke, and as you say, played with a variety of musicians. In 1964 he worked for several months at the Indigo Jazz Club in Porto Pi, Mallorca (before it was heavily commercialised), a club in a cave tunnelled out of the hillside, as bassist with a trio with John Mealing on piano and led by drummer Ramon Farran, who was engaged to writer Robert Graves’ daughter, Lucia. Ron hung out with Graves, Alan Sillitoe and the young Robert Wyatt (who I believe was taught drums by Farran), as well as visitors such as Ava Gardner. During that time, Ronnie Scott, Dick Morrissey and Tubby Hayes all came and spent time there, playing at the club. Graves occasionally sat in on drums, and as Ron once said, there can’t be many jazzmen who can boast of having played in a rhythm section that included Robert Graves.
    On the way back to the UK later that year, he stopped off in Paris and played at the Chat Qui Peche with Woody Shaw and Nathan Davis, and hung around with Albert Nicholas.
    He was a close friend of Jim Godbolt, who often included Ron’s limericks in Jazz at Ronnie Scotts magazine. He and Marie came to a couple of the reunions at the Seven Dials a few years ago.

    April 30, 2020
  10. Hat Hut Records Ltd #

    Dear Richard,

    Thank you for this new post. You made me realisten Mike Taylor’s Trio recording which is exceptional. I have also Pendulum on CD, re-issued by „Sunbeam records“¨

    I am very pleased having these two recordings. Mike Taylor belongs in the top section of creative pianist. He left two masterpieces and had already his own style playing.

    This evening I will check his three works he composed for Cream.

    Best wishes and stay safe home, Werner X. Uehlinger

    >

    April 30, 2020
  11. Steve Hurrell #

    Thank you for this appreciation of Ron Rubin, of whom I knew nothing before now. I was stirred to hear about Mike Taylor, and searched for more info. Finding he died near where I was born in Essex, I looked further and came across a blog entry – Galactic Ramble –(http://galacticramble.blogspot.com/2010/10/mike-taylor-mystic-who-looked-like-bank.html) This entry is about his life and has several other photos of him with Ron Rubin, including the image you have attached to this journal, possibly from the same occasion.

    April 30, 2020

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