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Documentary about jazz bassist Ron Carter debuts on PBS

Bassist Ron Carter
Ron Carter
KNKX file photo
Bassist Ron Carter.

The prolific bassist Ron Carter recently celebrated his 85th birthday at Carnegie Hall. The film documentary Finding the Right Notes traces his musical path from Ferndale, Michigan to the most famous concert stages of the world.

Finding the Right Notes will premiere on PBS Friday, Oct. 21.

The documentary shares its name with Carter's 2008 biography written by Dan Ouellette. The film is directed by Peter Schnall, who also directed the four-part documentary series Obama in 2020.

Carter has been a pillar of the jazz scene for decades, appearing on over 2,200 recordings. His calm, soft-spoken, professorial presence belies his inner drive to play each phrase perfectly in support of his fellow musicians.

An innovator on double bass, piccolo bass and cello, Carter has moved the role of jazz bass from timekeeper to one of soloist and composer.

Carter started out playing cello. At age 15, he was one of the first Black students to attend Michigan's famed Interlochen Music Camp.

He switched to bass in high school, since opportunities for Black musicians were rare in classical music. His career in jazz resulted in honors such as Outstanding Bassist of the Decade by the Detroit News, Jazz Bassist of the Year by Downbeat magazine, and Most Valuable Player by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

A highly-respected educator, Carter has received five honorary doctorates, most recently from The Juilliard School. He is the former artistic director of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Studies, served 18 years on the faculty of the music department of the City College of New York and is a faculty member at Manhattan School of Music.

Finding the Right Notes airs on Seattle PBS member station KCTS9 on Friday, Oct. 21 at 9 p.m. PST.

Originally from Detroit, Robin Lloyd has been presenting jazz, blues and Latin jazz on public radio for nearly 40 years. She's a member of the Jazz Education Network and the Jazz Journalists Association.