Originally published in California Jazz Now Magazine
If I could give out the award for an artist deserving of wider recognition, I’d give it to Roberto Miranda. I mused with Red Callendar as to why Roberto hasn’t received the notice he deserves and Red offered this explanation, “Give him time he’s still young. I’ve been around for awhile. You got to be in the right place at the right time. I have also been lucky.” Red Callendar lucky? The guy who taught Charles Mingus! Then it came to me that in addition to playing like a genius you got to get the breaks before the world sits up and takes notice. Red said maybe an article about him will help. “He needs to get his name in the paper, people need to be tossing his name about.”
Red who first met Roberto ten years ago on a recording date describes Mr. Miranda as a young giant who displays a remarkable facility on the string bass. “I also like him because he’s a genuinely nice guy.” Roberto is a man of well ordered priorities.
“There is a hierarchy in my life. 1. God, 2. Family, 3. Music. There have been times when I was confused and made a god of music and put it before my family, but never again. I will not neglect the bills or let my son go hungry. I think too many musicians have gotten away with using their art as a rational for not being good friends, fathers or husbands. I’m currently reading a book called the Intellectuals it shows the hell men like Marx put their families through.”
Home was where Roberto learned about life and his first instrument the congas. His father grew up in Puerto Rico making and playing his congas. A professional for almost all his adult life Luis Raphael Miranda played and recorded with Cal Tjader. He also plays on an album by Roberto which bears his name. For those movie buffs in the audience he can be seen in the movie The Left Handed Gun and could be heard on the soundtrack to The Naked Jungle.
Roberto’s introduction to the bass came quite by accident as he was playing in his brothers band as a teenager.
“When I was fifteen I was playing drums in a band I had formed with my brother. One night without notice I was called upon to fill in on bass. From the time I first picked it up it was love at first sight. It was also in this band that I first realized the potential music had to move an audience. We were a jazz band but we’d lay down these grooves so people could dance to them. One night I looked up from the bass to the audience and I saw this sea of young people dancing the stroll. Hundreds of heads bobbing up and down in unison, eighty people in each line. It was really something to behold .”
Besides his father Roberto has had the good fortune of studying with a number of fine teacher-musicians.
” I studied with Ray Brown and Red Mitchell on the jazz side. And with Dennis Trembly and Fred Tinsely of the L.A. Philharmonic. (Dennis now their principal bassist remembers Roberto as “a student with a hungry mind who was seeking out all the cats who had anything to teach because he wanted to learn it all.”) Charles Mingus, Paul Chambers, Scott La Faro, Jimmy Blanton and Oscar Pettiford have all been major influences. I have been inspired and truly fortunate to learn about the spirit of music from playing with some of musics true masters. Most notably Red Callendar, John Carter, Horace Tappscott and Bobby Bradford . Starting in 1965 I was part of the Underground Musicians Association along with James Newton and David Murray. Both of whom I continued to play with for some time until David moved back to New York. It was in fact a playing experience I had when I was touring with Horace, Bobby and John Carter that went a long way in setting my course in music. There was one night when we were trading sets with Cecil Taylor. Cecil came up to me the night before the ensemble played and asked me if I wanted to play. Following a one hour rehearsal the next day I set up for the gig. I have a good ear so I positioned myself so I could see Cecil’s left hand. Cecil played the entire night hiding his hand except for those breaks where he’d pound the piano with his fists or his elbow. I made the mistake of wearing this three piece suit. The first tune was an hour and fifteen minutes long. After forty-five minutes I was drenched, I was standing in a pool of my own sweat. I said Lord I don’t know what to do I played everything I know and these guys are still smoking! All of a sudden this music started to run through me. I was listening to myself play. Cecil looked at me for the first time all night and said yeh! John Carter, Andrew Cyrille and Leroy Jenkins later joined the band. It was a great group. I believe the spirit must always be in control. The spirit hears it first and then uses the mind like a computer to make a determination of form. Was it major or minor , seventh or diminished? Then you use the body to carry it out. That’s what musicianship training is all about. Developing your inner ear so if the good Lord sends you some music your motor skills are developed enough to carry it out.”
Roberto Miranda has been passing on these lessons to his students at U.S.C.’s Department of Jazz Studies. Though he admits to this being the best job he has ever held the impending cutback in hours may force him to look elsewhere so he can support his family.
“I have been lucky enough to be around teachers who are every bit as vital to the transmission of the art form as any musician. Teachers like George Hozenstein who expressed the most complex musical concepts in straight forward language. He would show me in an afternoon how Debussy constructed his String Quartet in G Minor. I was so impressed by him that I actually circulated a petition for him to stay. I find myself in a situation that demands taking a position in another city or another state if need be. I certainly wouldn’t leave Red and the community of musicians if I had a choice.” This article is my petition for Roberto Miranda.