Bob Cranshaw, the versatile bassist whose great sound led him beyond the regions of jazz and his long musical relationship with Sonny Rollins to “Sesame Street” and to being a regular pit member in Broadway shows, died Nov. 2, at his home in
Manhattan. He was 83.
His wife of 39 years, Bobbi, stated the cause of death was stage IV cancer.
Regardless of what adjective one places in front of the sideman, it just doesn’t seem to do justice to Cranshaw’s career. He wasn’t just a super sideman, as he stated he wanted to be in an interview with pianist Ethan Iverson on his Do the Math website. He was an integral part of every band he ever played in.
Cranshaw impressed the saxophonist and composer Sonny Rollins so much on his debut outing at the 1959 Playboy Jazz Festival in Chicago that Rollins continued to record and tour with him for the next 50 years.
They played together until a few years ago, when Rollins stopped touring. Cranshaw plays on at least 25 albums, including the classic 1962 album, “The Bridge,” that was recorded after two years of Rollin’s solitary practice on Brooklyn’s Williamsburg Bridge.
He appears on many of the saxophone colossus’ essential albums for RCA Victor, Milestone and the “Road Show” series, which are among the most influential live recordings in jazz history.
During his tenure with Blue Note Records, Cranshaw was one of the most recorded bassists in the 1960s. His most notable performances include trumpeter Lee Morgan’s “The Sidewinder” (1964) and “The Gigolo” (1966), guitarist Grant Green’s “Idle Moments” (1963) and “Matador” (1964), Horace Silver’s “Cape Verdean Blues” (1965) and multiple albums with Stanley Turrentine, Duke Pearson and Shirley Scott (Impulse!).
His versatility allowed him tours and performances with the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby, Paul Simon, Rod Stewart, Thelonious Monk, Peggy Lee, Frank Sinatra, Judy Collins and
“Bob was the ultimate professional: Class, dignity, humanity, kindness, humility, humor and musicality,” said the drummer Steve Jordan, mentored by Cranshaw. “Always there to make the entire ensemble sound
better, not just himself.”
Cranshaw’s musical adaptability gave him passage into session work, where he became a member of the “Sesame Street” cast for 25 years, recording the TV show’s theme song by Joe Raposo and other tunes, such as “It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green” and “Sing.” He was also the bassist for another children’s TV show, “The Electric Company.”
From 1969 to 1972 Cranshaw was a member of the studio band of “The David Frost Show,” working with pianist Billy Taylor. He was the bass player with the original studio band of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” working alongside keyboardist Paul Shaffer from 1975 to 1980.
Aside from children shows and late night television during the 1980s and 90s Cranshaw was a regular in pit orchestras for many Broadway shows, including “Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music,” “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: The Musical” and “Jesus Christ Superstar.” He is among the most recorded bassists in history.
Because of an automobile accident that seriously injured his back Cranshaw was forced to switch from the upright bass to an electric bass. He was criticized for this change by jazz purists, until he transferred his same magical touch and musical phrasing to his new bass.
For 25 years Cranshaw was an active member of the nonprofit organization Jazz Foundation of America. “If Music is created from the same consciousness that is made from love, then Bob Cranshaw was also created from the same love that creates the music,” said Wendy Oxenhorn, executive director JFA. “His work at the Jazz Foundation will never be forgotten.”
Since the 1990s, Cranshaw was an active member in Local 802 the American Federation of Musicians (NYC), where he diligently worked as an advocate for the rights of jazz musicians for better pension plans to make sure their widows received royalties owed to them.
He felt his work in the union was his way of trying to insure that his fellow jazz musicians receive the same treatment and financial compensation that he did because of his work in other media and varied genres.
“Bob was a great musician and a very giving soul,” stated the composer/trumpeter Jimmy Owens. “We worked at getting jazz musicians knowledgeable about things like health insurance and the American Federation of Musician’s Pension Fund. Bob will be missed by many people.”
Cranshaw was an influential first-call musician regardless of the genre or medium and a devoted friend to the jazz community. When the tireless jazz producer and activist Cobi Narita needed someone to perform at a fundraiser or one of her events, the bassist was always available.
When there were events at the Local 802 Monday jazz sessions, or memorials in St. Peter’s Church, one didn’t have to ask Cranshaw twice. He understood Hal Jackson’s concept “it is nice to be important but more important to be nice.”
Melbourne Robert Cranshaw was born Dec. 10, 1932, in Chicago to Stanly Cranshaw, a choir director, and the former Evelyn Brown. He grew up in the nearby suburb of Evanston, Ill.
He played bass in the high school orchestra and after graduating, received his bachelor’s degree from Chicago’s Roosevelt University. After serving in the Army in Korea, he returned to Chicago and earned recognition on the local jazz scene before moving to New York in 1960.
Cranshaw’s survivors include his wife Bobbi Curtis Cranshaw, three children from his first marriage, two stepchildren he adopted and several grandchildren.