The life and work of legendary Jazz bass player Ron Carter is celebrated in a new PBS documentary entitled “Ron Carter: Finding the Right Notes,” featuring original concert footage and candid interviews with jazz legends such as Herbie Hancock, Sonny Rollins, and Jon Batiste. “Finding the Right Notes” is a vibrant portrait of one of America’s great musical trailblazers and can be viewed on Detroit Public Television, Channel 56 and a companion compilation album of the same name also comes out Friday, while the documentary will be released Nov. 29 on home video.
Carter, the Ferndale-born jazz bass great muses on the occasion of his 80th birthday about how long he can keep going. Five years later at the tender age of 85, Carter still is, and with no signs of stopping. He holds a Guinness World Record for appearing on the most recordings by any jazz bassist (more than 2,221 during his nearly seven-decade career) — and has been spending this year celebrating in grand style.
The documentary which hit the airwaves on Oct. 21, on PBS, was directed by Emmy and Peabody Award winner Peter Schnall, who over the course of two hours takes stock of a life that includes membership in Miles Davis’ famed second quintet and recordings that, in addition to other jazz legends also includes work with Aretha Franklin, Billy Joel and A Tribe Called Quest. The film includes footage from Carter’s 2016 engagement as the Detroit Jazz Festival’s Artist-in Residence, which allowed Schnall to take the bassist back to his family’s home in Ferndale. It also includes intimate scenes shot during the pandemic and also dealing with the death of one of his sons.
For his part, Carter — who’s referred to as “maestro” by his peers — says that looking back “is not what I do,” though he’s happy with the documentary.
“I’m a scientist as well as a bass player,” explains Carter, who began as a cello player before switching to double bass in order to get more opportunities to play. “I like to find an idea and really drive it into the ground. I’m not just interested in playing a note; I want to know, ‘How does this note affect other people’s concepts of music?’ If I can maintain that curiosity, I’ll keep going, ’cause the notes just keep coming and I keep finding new things to do with them.”