During his long career as a premier jazz bassist, Ron Carter has performed with some of the greatest entertainers in music history - from jazz greats like Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk and Benny Goodman to more modern legends like James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Paul Simon.
With appearances on more than 2,500 albums under his belt - his website says Carter "may be the world's most recorded bassist" - you would think the 75-year-old would have a few standout collaborations. But the soft-spoken Grammy winner won't play favorites.
"For me, they're all important, not just for my musical living but for my own career growth," Carter said in a recent phone interview with the Mirror from a tour stop in Boulder, Colo.
Ron Carter got his start playing in Miles Davis' quartet.
Area jazz lovers will get to take a peek at Carter's "growth" when he and his Ron Carter Trio (with guitarist Russell Malone and pianist Donald Vega) perform at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in Schwab Auditorium on the Penn State University Park campus.
Fans should expect a nice mix of Carter classics and new compositions, as well as a few standards.
"It's a nice mixture of compositions," Carter said of the performance. "I don't want it to just be my writing, although I think it's pretty good. I want to go out and get the band to try other people's songs and try to find what's at the heart of them."
If you go
Who: The Ron Carter Trio
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Schwab Auditorium, Penn State University Park campus
Tickets: $32 for adults, $25 for those age 18 and younger and $16 for University Park Students; Tickets available online at www.cpa.psu.edu, by calling 863-0255 or 800-ARTS-TIX or in person at Eisenhower Auditorium (weekdays 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.), Penn State Downtown Theatre Center (weekdays 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.), HUB-Robeson Center Information Desk (weekdays 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.) and Bryce Jordan Center (weekdays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.)
Carter has been trying to get to the heart of jazz since his career began, in the early 1960s. The native of Ferndale, Mich., gained fame as part of Miles Davis' quintet beginning in 1963. At the time, the group also included Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Tony Williams.
He left Davis' group in 1968 and struck out on his own, releasing albums as a band leader and working as a sideman for some of the greats of the next few decades, like Gil Scott-Heron, Bette Midler, B.B. King, Lena Horne and Harry Connick Jr.
"I hate to be thought of as kind of a mainstream player, although I'm not really afraid of that description," Carter said. "I've never seen me as an easily defined player. ... I've never thought of myself as anything more than a bass player who tries to make people sound as good as possible."
During his near 50-year career, Carter - who also plays the cello and has recorded with that instrument, as well - has won two Grammys and has been awarded honorary doctorates from the New England Conservatory of Music and the Manhattan School of Music.
He has lectured, taught and performed at many schools of music and colleges and is the former artistic director of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Studies. He spent 18 years on the faculty of the The City College of New York music department, now serving as Distinguished Professor Emeritus. He has also taught at the Juilliard School in New York since 2008.
But even as his status as an elite teacher and jazz icon has increased, Carter's success as a recording artist hasn't waned. He's characteristically blunt when explaining that continued prominence.
"I'm comfortably active," he said. "I think that as you get older, like wine, it's supposed to get better."
Today, Carter tours with a trio and a quartet and occasionally performs with his own big band outfit. He and his quartet recently returned from a performance in China, and after the short American tour that includes the Penn State concert, he and his big band will do a three-week tour in Japan.
"I've been going to Japan since 1963," Carter said. "They've been all over the jazz community for a very long time and it's great that they support this music."
The Asian tours are done out of necessity for jazz musicians, he said.
"It's difficult to maintain a full work schedule in the States as a jazz artist," Carter explained. "We go to Europe in the summer for the big festivals and in the winter we go to Japan when their season starts up.
"We'd obviously all like to work in the States all the time, but that's just not possible."
The Center for the Performing Arts, which is presenting the Penn State show, is happy to have Carter's Trio while it's in the U.S.
"Jazz does very well here at the Center, " said Laura Sullivan, director of marketing at CPA. "The performance has already exceeded our expectations. We're already well over projection, and have been for more than a month."
She said that Carter was at Penn State once before, as part of the International Society of Bassists Conference, hosted by Penn State's School of Music in June 2009. Trio member Malone played Penn State in February of 2010 as part of the Monterey Jazz Festival Tour.
Sullivan said the excitement for the show has been impressive.
"There are still tickets available, but it will look very full on the performance day," she said.
For his part, Carter is content with any audience that shows up.
"We're happy for any age group," he said. "We were on a college campus last night and the audience was completely filled. I was told that there was a really nice mix of the students and those in the neighboring areas. We're happy whatever the age group."
Mirror Staff Writer Keith Frederick is at 946-7466.