R.I.P: Buddy Catlett, Extraordinary Bass Player and Human

I have two stories of Buddy Catlett. My first gig with him, and my last gig with him.

Buddy Catlett was a master jazz bassist from the swing era who was a mainstay in Seattle for decades and played regularly with virtually every big name from the 20th century you can come up with. His recent passing brought back some memories of playing with him. In particular, it reminded me of when he changed my life on my first gig, and when we had a good laugh on the last gig. May Buddy rest in peace, he sure earned it.

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I just heard that the legendary Buddy Catlett passed away. Not unexpected, but still sad. Buddy Catlett is not a famous player like Ray Brown, but he played with every last person Ray ever played with and maybe more.

Here's a great article from 2008: http://www.seattlepi.com/ae/music/article/Musician...

Here's his obit: http://blogs.seattletimes.com/soundposts/2014/11/1...

In my years of skirting the edges of jazz and whatever the music is that I like to play, I've had a few people who I call mentors and Buddy Catlett was one of them. I remember the first time I played with Buddy like it was yesterday.

It was at the train station in Seattle, where the Smith Tower is, and it was a big deal. Diane Schuur was playing the main act and Buddy Catlett and I were the opening act, a piano/bass duo.

Buddy Catlett

However, before we started the gig, there was a rehearsal schedule for the band that Bill Ramsey had put together for Diane Schuur. She wasn't there and I'm not sure who was supposed to play the piano, but eventually I was sitting there. This was the first time anyone apart from Trav and people in college had heard me play, and the biggest compliment I'd ever had in my life happened after that rehearsal- Rams asked for my number.

After the rehearsal it was time to play the duo gig and at the end of the gig I remember saying to Buddy, "Man, I'm sorry I sucked so bad, sorry you didn't have fun. I'll play with you again sometime and do better." (I played terrible. I was careful and sucked, and Rams never called me after he heard that gig, sigh)

Buddy suddenly stopped what he was doing and looked at me like Bruce Lee would look at a mugger. Intensity, depth, and mastery. My next footstep didn't even hit the ground, I simply froze under that gaze, one I had never seen from Buddy before. Then he said something that the universe tattooed on my soul:

Don't you ever apologize for playing your music or where you're at, that's like apologizing for being alive! Never apologize for being where you're at unless you're not trying to get better.

Maybe not those exact words, but it was something just like that.

I've never, ever, forgotten those words of encouragement. In fact I repeat them from time to time, most recently last night when I had some college guys over to jam.

Buddy Catlett

I also remember my last gig with Buddy like it was yesterday. In a way I horrified myself almost as much as the first gig, but for a totally different reason.

After my first overseas thing, I lived in Seattle for a while and hired Buddy for a bunch of gigs. I always enjoyed playing with him, picking his brain, hearing his stories and I remember how he always picked me up by mentioning how I had improved since the last time we had played together.

The last gig with him was a duo gig at one of those mansions on Capitol Hill in Seattle, near Cornish, and at the end of the gig I whipped out a check for him.

I had recently been overseas and was reminded of it when on my way out when Buddy cleared his throat and said, "Uh, Scot, I'm not Eldee Young."

He said that because I wrote Eldee Young's name on the check by mistake.

Buddy Catlett on a recording with Clark Terry and others

I had just returned after a year and a half playing in Seoul where I had the chance to hang out with Eldee on a somewhat regular basis. Mainly because I made sure of it... I mean, who wouldn't? That bass solo on on

Tennesee Waltz on one of the Ramsey Lewis "In Crowd" albums was ridiculous, and because of it, I'd always wanted to meet the bass player and the randomness of life gave me the opportunity.

Anyway, I had the Hyatt gig, and Eldee had the Westin gig, and we jammed quite a few times because we had different nights off.

Back to the point, when I was writing Buddy's check I had a minor mind-quake and wrote Eldee's name instead.

If you haven't met these guys, basically, if you had Buddy and Eldee standing next to each other, they'd look like brothers. Same eyes, same manner, and they were both about 4' 11" tall.

Buddy Catlett recording with Johnny Griffin and Eddie

Buddy said (and I quote), "I know I'm a short, black bass player, but I'm not Eldee Young."

We had a good laugh, and that's how I shook his hand for the last time- with a smile, some laughing, and knowing that I had another chance in this world of finite chances to play with a human like Buddy Catlett.

Anyway, I feel super lucky and privileged that I had as many chances as I did to play with Buddy and enjoy his stories, history, humor, and education.

I'm gonna miss his energy in this world, in my world. I hope that the things I do, say, and write sometimes make a difference in people's lives like Buddy's words and philosophy did in mine.

George James Catlett

May 13, 1933 - November, 13 2014

better known as Buddy Catlett

If I'm not back in 24 hours, call the president.

Scot is available for skype jazz piano lessons (and google hangouts, phone call, etc...)
Use the contact link at the top of the page.

by Scot Ranney on 11/13/2014, 21:30
There is 1 comment, leave a comment.
Hi Scot, thanks for that offering, great stories, that was beautiful. Makes me wanna leave the office, go home, and practice the piano right now...

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