Sad news to report today: bass legend Bob Cranshaw has passed away after battling stage 4 cancer. He was 83.
Born in Evanston, Illinois in 1932, Cranshaw picked up the bass in high school. He played in several groups in his youth, eventually starting his more than a 50-year musical relationship with saxophonist Sonny Rollins in 1959. He became a staple of the New York City jazz scene and recorded on several seminal albums for the Blue Note label including Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder, Joe Henderson’s Inner Urge, and Grant Green’s Idle Moments, among others. He also worked with jazz artists like Ella Fitzgerald, Dexter Gordon, Tony Bennett, Coleman Hawkins, Peggy Lee, Carmen McRae, Thelonious Monk, Horace Silver, and many more.
His early career was all played on the double bass, but an accident turned him into one of the earliest adopters of the electric bass in jazz. “I play the electric just like I play the string bass,” he told JazzTimes in 2001. “I mean, there’s a certain characteristic to the electric, but I play it like an upright, because I’m not really a funk player—I’m still a jazz bassist. So in order to play with the people I’m used to playing with, I have to get a sound that is closer to sounding like the string bass because this is what these people are used to hearing—to feeling a certain thing from the string bass. That’s why with someone who normally wouldn’t allow an electric bass anywhere near their bandstand, like Milt Jackson, there’d be times when I offered him a choice, as to whether he wanted the added cartage and expense of the upright, and he’d say, ‘That’s okay Deacon, you just bring along your pork chop.'”
Besides an impressive career in jazz, Cranshaw was a mainstay of music for television. He was the session bassist for Sesame Street, playing hip lines to educational songs that touched an entire generation. He was also the house bassist for Saturday Night Live from 1975 to 1980 and the musical director for Dick Cavett in the early 1980s. He was also a huge advocate for musicians as part of the musicians union in New York City.
Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Bob Cranshaw.