George Mraz

George Mraz, a Czech Republic native, was born in 1944. At seven years old, he began musical studies with the violin and then started playing jazz in highschool on the alto saxophone. He studied bass violin at the Prague Conservatory and graduated in 1966. His early exposure to melodic instruments likely contributed to his maturity as a bassist. He was able to rely on this instrument only later in his career. Mraz recalls that he was performing in a big band on weekends and the bass player was not very good. He laughed, “or he was genius,” because he always played the wrong notes. You’d be inclined to believe that he might have accidentally played some of the correct notes every now and again. But, no. So, I took a break from playing the bass and tried to find the right notes. It’s not difficult, I thought. So I bought a bass and started playing a bit. The next thing I knew I was at the Prague Conservatory. He was playing with some of the best jazz bands in Prague during that time. George moved to Munich after completing his studies. He played in clubs and concerts all over Germany and Middle Europe alongside Benny Bailey and Carmel Jones as well as Leo Wright and Hampton Hawes. Jan Hammer was also a member of these groups. Mraz was also deeply touched by Willis Conover’s Voice Of America radio broadcasts. He was his link to a vast new world across the ocean. Louis Armstrong was the first person to give me jazz. In between the light operettas they play in Prague, they had an hour of Louis Armstrong music every Sunday. Satchmo’s strange singing voice was a surprise. “How is he able to get away with such a voice?” I thought. I was puzzled. It was an hour, and I realized that I loved it more than any other music I had heard that day. So I began to explore jazz. “The Voice Of America” aired for about an hour. My listening equipment was not so good, so it was difficult to hear the bass. Instead of focusing on the bass, I was listening to the whole band and how they worked together. Every song I have heard has influenced me. But Ray Brown, Scott LaFaro and Paul Chambers were my favorites. Ron Carter was also a big influence on me. Mraz was naturally drawn to music and quickly became an expert at performing the music that captivated his imagination nearly every night. “By some miracle, I was able to finish school and began working in Munich alongside people like Benny Bailey or Mal Waldron. I had a Berklee scholarship, and it was the perfect time to use it. 1968 saw George Mraz arrive in Boston on a scholarship for the Berklee School of Music. He played with Joe Williams, Clark Terry, Herbie Hancock and Carmen McRae. Dizzy Gillespie called George in 1969 to invite him to New York. After spending a few weeks with Dizzy Gillespie, George was invited to join his group in New York. He stayed with Oscar Peterson for approximately two years. He continued his work with the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra the following six years. In the late seventies, George worked with Stan Getz and Zoot Sims of New York Jazz Quartet. He also worked with John Abercrombie, Bill Evans, Zoot Sims, Bill Evans and Tommy Flanagan for more than ten years. George Mraz is a gifted musician on the acoustic basse. While this musician has been a constant presence on the jazz scene since his arrival from Czechoslovakia in 1994, his musicianship is still fairly underrated by the public. He avoids the spotlight because of his self-effacing qualities on the bandstand. Mraz is known for his selflessness and willingness to take on leadership roles in projects. Mraz says that he always wanted to take on some type of project on his own, but he never did. It’s not surprising, considering the list of jazz legends who have made Mraz their first call bassist over the past three decades, including the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra and Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry, Stan Getz. Slide Hampton, Elvin Jones and Joe Henderson. George says, “After I quit Tommy Flanagan 1992, I had a lot of time to do things,” and adds that “I would like to do a few more.” George left Flanagan to join Joe Henderson, Hank Jones and DIM (Directions In Music With Herbie Hancock. Michael Brecker. Roy Hargrove.), Mc Coy Tyner. Joe Lovano. Hank Jones Quartet. Manhattan Trinity. Richie Beirach, Billy Hart, and Rich Perry, a pianist and drummer, have also led his own quartet. The quartet can be heard on Mraz’s Milestone debut Jazz. Hart and Beirach are on the trio date My Foolish Heart. Perry is on Bottom Lines. This 1997 Mraz session features favorite works by Jaco Pastorius and Ron Carter, Marcus Miller and Buster Williams. Beirach says that George plays the exact note you are looking for, and that he plays the bass like he made it. Mraz is not a visible presence. However, Mraz’s sense of what is appropriate makes him positively transparent. Todd Barkan, Mraz’s producer, exclaims, “Even though he is walking four to the bar only, his selection of notes are so perfect that it’s almost like he’s telling an intimate story in the back of the soloist.” George Mraz has recorded with Tommy Flanagan and Roland Hanna, Charles Mingus/Mel Lewis Orchestras, NYJQ. Toshiko Akioshi. Kenny Drew. As a leader, his albums include “Catching Up” (ALFA Records) and “Jazz”, “Bottom Lines”, “My Foolish Heart”, “Bottom Lines”, “Duke’s Place”, and “Morava”, all from Milestone Records. Moravian Gems is Mraz’s newest release. It features a collection that combines the folk tradition of Morava with the sophistication, inventiveness, and drive of jazz to create a mix of jagged rhythms, fascinating harmonies and vibrant melodies. Mraz spent his formative years in Moravia, his father’s homeland. Mraz’s performances in Morava bring back fond memories of Morava’s lush green fields, its warm people and the songs they sang using their distinctive dialect. Emil Viklicky, pianist? The music was composed and orchestrated by Emil Viklicky. Laco Tropp, the drummer, has been a part of Viklicky’s trio for many years, and Iva Bittova, an incredibly gifted singer, are the other partners. Mraz and Viklicky met in Yugoslavia at a 1976 jazz festival. Mraz had just moved to New York and was playing in Stan Getz’s quartet. Viklicky? Viklicky? Mraz was a student at the Prague Conservatory and played in Velebny’s band. Mraz suggested that Emil and Emil consider a project that combines traditional Moravian music and jazz more than 20 years after their first meeting. Emil visited Prague in 1997. Their collaboration resulted in this CD. They discussed the variety of Moravian music and the emotion and lyricism it contains, as well as the potential for improvisation. Paul Vlcek (the album’s producer) pointed out that the strong modal nature of Moravian songs, particularly those from Southern Moravia has been preserved over the centuries due in part to their geographic isolation, but more so because its people’s love of singing and passing down their songs to the next generation in their original form, largely unaffected with fashions and trends. Moravians’ instinctive ear to modal harmony and ease with which they inhabit them while playing and singing makes their music spontaneous, exotic, and sometimes unpredictable for non-Moravians.” Emil suggested Iva Bittova as Emil’s singer. She is a singer of unusual vocal purity and flexibility, musicianship that includes advanced violin skills, acting talent, and musicianship that encompasses exceptional vocal purity. Born in Bruntal, a northern Moravian village in 1958, she is now a star of the film. Ludmila Bittova was her mother and a singer. Her father, Koloman Bitto, was a multi-instrumentalist who concentrated on double bass. Bittova stated, “I love the material a lot.” She also said that she spent time reviewing the music with Emil as well as Laco, who still has smiley eyes. It was my first encounter with George, and it was also the first time that I had recorded with an ensemble of jazz musicians. George’s double-bass was the sound of my father Koloman. At only 53 years old, he was a great musician. George’s music touched me so deeply that I stopped using headphones and monitors to just listen to the music in the room. Such a strong inspiration for my singing.” from

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