George Mraz, the senior session bassist who played on international tours with Herbie Hancock, the Cliburn competition, the jazz festival in Detroit and the legendary trip to Morocco and France in 1968, has died, aged 77.
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His representatives had made no official announcement, although they did confirm his death to the St Louis Post-Dispatch on Thursday. They quoted him as saying last year: “I’m not sure that there is any more magic I can have as a bass player. I’m just not as musical any more.”
Mraz retired in 2006 after starting the Mraz Segal Music Institute in his home town of Calhoun, Illinois, to provide hands-on musical instruction for young musicians. His classes attracted dozens of jazz, classical and pop musicians, including Kenny Barron, Horace Silver, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Walt Parazaider, the John Scofield Quintet and Hubert Laws.
The academy’s website, www.mysegal.org, says Mraz died in Calhoun on Wednesday. A representative there said: “The student, faculty and staff of the Mraz Segal Music Institute were devastated by the news of George’s passing. To say we are saddened would be an understatement.”
George Mraz in Michigan, 2005. Photograph: Thomas Gray /AP
Mraz was born in Chicago on 31 January 1943, the son of Polish Jewish immigrants. His mother was a homemaker, his father a shoe salesman, and they had only one child – George. They had known each other from grade school and decided to raise Mraz alone. His father worked at a garage and his mother became a janitor at a local school.
In his early teens, Mraz began playing in local bands and eventually joined the Chicago Blues Assn. during his junior year of high school. His name was Monique and he shortened it when he moved to Chicago to pursue a music career.
While working a job on the Palos landfill in the late 1950s, a sheet metal worker hired him to assist him in renovating a crawler loader. He met the cab driver, John Spenciero, who gave him a ride to another city and gave him his number. While Mraz stayed in Detroit to attend Wayne State University, Spenciero became the saxophonist and keyboard player in a local local band, the Black Royale, where he met drummer Rusty Jenkins. Eventually, Spenciero’s son, Joe, joined the band. Mraz became the permanent bassist and off he went on the road with the band.
In 1960, Mraz moved to New York to work with Ray Charles. In 1968, he played on a recording, performed with Ornette Coleman at Lincoln Center in New York and returned to Chicago, where he toured with the legendary bassist Jimmy Smith. That led to him being asked to become part of the official touring band for a jazz festival in Morocco. He also went on a holiday to France and inspired Donovan to record his hit cover of Quiet Night. Mraz continued to play with greats such as the trumpet great Wayne Shorter, Davis and Billy Cobham.
Mraz married the singer Elaine Ross and they played on several albums and toured frequently in Europe with Rod Stewart. When her heart broke in 1989 after the untimely death of her husband, Mraz started to feel his musical influence wane. He pursued a career as a business consultant and head of operations, but continued to play and teach.
His fellow bass players reacted with shock at the news of his death. Doc Severinsen, former president of the St Louis Bands Association, said: “George Mraz was an incredibly talented musician. He loved to have a good time and always had a good time doing it. The world has lost a fine musician. It was a pleasure to have him as a bandmate.”
Mraz’s brother Paul said: “He is one of those wonderful people that made you want to be better at what you do. The music was so simple. It was such an easy way to share his love of music.”