85-year-old bassist Ron Carter has no plans on slowing down The roster of musicians Carter has worked with ranges from Ornette Coleman to Aretha Franklin, Roberta Flack and A Tribe Called Quest.

85-year-old bassist Ron Carter has no plans on slowing down

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Ron Carter is one of the most original, prolific and influential bassists in jazz history. In a career spanning six decades, he's appeared on more than 2,000 records and worked with greats like Aretha Franklin. Today, on Carter's 85th birthday, Tom Vitale has this look at his career.

TOM VITALE, BYLINE: Ron Carter's most historic recordings came early in his career, in the 1960s, as the bass player in the second great Miles Davis Quintet.

(SOUNDBITE OF MILES DAVIS' "SEVEN STEPS TO HEAVEN")

VITALE: Carter says the quintet - with Miles on trumpet, George Coleman and then Wayne Shorter on saxophone, Herbie Hancock on piano and Tony Williams on drums - never rehearsed before recording. He says the band was a laboratory.

RON CARTER: God gave Miles the title of the head clinician at this laboratory, and his job was to bring in these various chemicals night in and night out and see what these remaining four guys in this group, what kind of combinations would they find of these explosive devices he brought to the gig, and what kind of fun could he have trying to keep up?

(SOUNDBITE OF MILES DAVIS' "STRAIGHT, NO CHASER")

WAYNE SHORTER: He did not play like a metronome, like tick, tock, tick, tock, tick.

VITALE: Eighty-eight-year-old saxophonist Wayne Shorter says Ron Carter stood out because he played bass in the moment and off the beat.

SHORTER: Some bass players the whole time play on the beat, on every note. But Ron would start something, let go and jump all the way to where it was going. But the note that he played had a lot to do with carrying the sound and the color of what he left out.

(SOUNDBITE OF RON CARTER'S "RUFUS")

VITALE: In the 1970s, Ron Carter became the house bass player for CTI Records, a label that showcased jazz with distinctive talent and arrangements. But Carter says again, many of the CTI record dates were unrehearsed. On the label's first release, Freddie Hubbard's "Red Clay," Carter had to come up with the title song's intro on the fly in the studio.

CARTER: Freddie Hubbs (ph) just brought this tune in. He played the piano part, you know, and said, you play this, you play that. And Ron, give me an intro for eight bars. And I said, yeah, well, what am I doing with it? Where's it going? You'll figure something out, Ron. Come on. Let's - two, three, four. And that is the story of that bassline. (Vocalizing). Yeah. That's mine.

(SOUNDBITE OF FREDDIE HUBBARD'S "RED CLAY")

STANLEY CLARKE: To me, he's probably the - in the last 50 years, the most important bass player.

VITALE: Bassist Stanley Clarke says before he became famous in Chick Corea's Return to Forever band, he learned from listening to Ron Carter.

CLARKE: I remember as a young kid, I used to get his records. I could tell that he was very, very professional because the consistency was there from record to record to record - his sound, his ability, and then his flow.

(SOUNDBITE OF HERBIE HANCOCK SONG, "MAIDEN VOYAGE")

VITALE: Ron Carter was born in Ferndale, Mich., in 1937. He started to play the cello at the age of 10 but switched to bass in high school because opportunities were limited for Black musicians to play classical music. By the time he was 25, he was one of the most sought-after sidemen in jazz. Giovanni Russonello writes about jazz for The New York Times.

GIOVANNI RUSSONELLO: When I think of Ron Carter, I think of this incredible ability to be sure-footed everywhere but also sound almost like a plasma, like some undefinable, immutable substance. His basslines sound endlessly fascinating and full of ideas.

(SOUNDBITE OF RON CARTER'S "GOLDEN STRIKER")

VITALE: Next Tuesday, Ron Carter will celebrate his 85th birthday at Carnegie Hall, leading three different bands, performing highlights from his career. He says he has no plans to retire.

CARTER: Age has not made me think slower. It has not made me refuse gigs. What it's made me do is be thankful that I got this far playing an instrument with four strings.

(SOUNDBITE OF RON CARTER'S "BLUES IN THE CLOSET")

VITALE: For NPR News, I'm Tom Vitale in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF RON CARTER'S "BLUES IN THE CLOSET")

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