I was sad to learn from Marc Myers Jazzwax on the passing of Ronnie Cuber, especially in the circumstances Ronnie Cuber (1941-2022) – JazzWax. Ronnie died on October 7th following complications from a surgery he never had that was delayed during COVID.
Ronnie Cuber played with George Benson early in George’s career 1966-1967, as well as touring, Cuber appeared on both Benson’s Columbia albums “It’s Uptown” albumhttps://www.discogs.com/master/220031-The-George-Benson-Quartet-Its-Uptown and “Cookbook”https://www.discogs.com/master/220030-The-George-Benson-Quartet-Featuring-Lonnie-Smith-The-George-Benson-Cookbook. Dr Lonnie Smith was Benson’s featured keyboard player at that time, and when Benson signed with CTI in 1967, Cuber would continue to play with Lonnie Smith.
From this early period with Benson, Ronnie Cuber can be heard distinctly on the Benson track “The Borgia Stick”, which was the title and the film of the same name. Benson and Cuber can be seen and heard in this 1966 scene on youtubehttps://youtu.be/qcY1lbfQK3A?t=3993 which must be one of both Benson and Cuber’s earliest appearances and is almost completely overlooked by movie reviews. It is though cataloged by the Library of CongressTHE BORGIA STICK | Library of Congress (loc.gov). The film was scored by Kenyon Hopkinskenyon hopkins – Creed Taylor Produced (ctproduced.com) and was Benson’s third single/45′. Below is a youtube video of Ronnie Cuber talking about that period which is fantastic.
As well as playing with Maynard Ferguson in the early sixties, Cuber would play in a more Latin style with Eddie Palmieri through the early seventies and as part of numerous big bands, including. By 1976, Ronnie Cuber’s baritone sax style made him a 1st call for David Matthews more funkier arrangements on the late-term CTI/KUDU albums, especially the epic Idris Muhammad track “Could Heaven Ever Be Like This”.
Ronnie recorded for CTI/KUDU in quick succession: 1975 July, George Benson – “Good King Bad”; Sept. – Oct. Idris Muhammad – “House Of The Rising Sun”; Oct.-December, Esther Phillips With Joe Beck – “For All We Know”; 1976 March, Grant Green – “The Main Attraction”; David Matthews – “Shoogie Wanna Boogie”; May, June, Patti Austin – “End Of A Rainbow”; July – Sept Esther Phillips – “Capricorn Princess”; December, Lalo Schifrin – “Towering Toccata”; Idris Muhammad – “Turn This Mutha Out” (plus Jan. 1977); 1977 August, Patti Austin “Havana Candy”; December, Idris Muhamad – “Boogie To The Top”; Recording overdubs for the George Benson compilation “Space” which was released December 1978, post-bankruptcy; 1978 March, Hank Crawford – “Cajun Sunrise”.
Ronnie Cuber and David Matthews would continue to work together post their CTI involvement, including Idris Muhammad 1979 album “Foxhuntin'” as well as a series of Mathews leader albums for the Electric Bird label.
In 1976 and ’78, Cuber recorded his first leader albums “Cuber Libre”(not release until 1978) and “The Eleventh Day of Aquarius” for XANADU RECORDS under the guise and production of Don Schlitten. These were more traditional jazz quintet style compared to his other studio work at the time. The albums came after Cuber also recorded in a sextet config’ also for Schlitten/Xanadu.
Cuber’s final recording for CTICreed Taylor | Ronnie Cuber | Discography | Discogs was on Roland Hanna‘s 1982 album “Gershwin Carmichael Cats” where Cuber plays on a cover of “The Theme From Cats” which you’ll love or hate. I’m in the former camp. Cuber joined the 1984 edition of the former CTI super-group, Fuse One and their album “Ice” produced and arranged by David Matthews. He would also play on the Bill Joel albums “An Innocent Man” and “The Bridge”, the former included the hit “Tell Her About”, and the latter “Big Man on Mulberry Street”. “Mulberry Street” is a heavily influenced jazz song that features Ron Carter, Michael Brecker and Cuber.
While it’s easy to dismiss Cuber’s work in the disco era, that would be lazy. His baritone sax especially gave a sound to the emerging electronic inspired dance music that computers and electronics couldn’t. Ronnie Cuber recorded on the Average White Band – “Soul Searching” in the spring 1976 and would go on to become the quintessential sax player on many NYC disco records including Chaka Khan, the Michael Zagar Band‘s anthemic “Let’s All Chant”, Gregg Diamond‘s somewhat minimal and ultimately disappointing Mercury debut album “Hardware”; William Eaton‘s “Struggle Buggy” and the Bob James produced Wilbert Longmire soul album “Champagne”.
My commiserations Ronnie’s Wife and Sons, a fine man, whose range went well beyond being a saxophone player.
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