In Memoriam: George Mraz
Another jazz legend has left us. George Mraz, who played with everyone from Chet Baker to John Abercrombie, has passed away of undisclosed causes. He was 77 years old. The news was shared on Facebook by his wife Camilla.
Mraz was born in what is now the Czech Republic in 1944. He began playing violin at seven years old and attended the Prague Conservatory in 1961 to study double bass. It was during his time in school that he heard jazz from the Voice of America radio broadcasts.
“The first jazz I ever heard was actually Louis Armstrong when I was about twelve years old,” the bassist said. “They had an hour of his music on one Sunday in between all these light operettas and stuff they played on the radio in the Czech republic (then Czechoslovakia). Then the strange voice of Satchmo singing was quite a shock. ‘How can he get away with a voice like that?’ I thought. But by the time the hour was over I decided I liked it better than anything I heard that day, so I started looking into jazz”.
There he heard the low notes of Ray Brown, Scott Lafaro, Paul Chambers, and Ron Carter. After graduating, he played throughout Europe with artists like Benny Bailey, Mal Waldron, and Hampton Hawes. In 1968, he was awarded a scholarship to Berklee School of Music and moved to Boston, Massachusetts. There he worked with Clark Terry, Herbie Hanock, and Carmen McRae. He was called by Dizzy Gillespie to join his band for a few weeks, after which he joined the Oscar Peterson Trio for two years. Through the seventies, he performed and recorded with Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Bill Evans, and John Abercrombie.
In addition to his impressive sideman CV, Mraz recorded 10 albums as a leader. They include Catching Up, Mraz Jazz, My Foolish Heart, Bottom Lines, Duke’s Place, Morava, and more.
In 2016, Mraz was sidetracked with a difficult surgery on his pancreas and suffered a heart attack while in the hospital. The event set him back, but he had been performing again in 2017.
Our thoughts are with the family and friends of George Mraz.