Ruby Braff began his jazz career as an out-of-time traditionalist playing with veteran jazzmen of an earlier age, and rose to establish his own standing as one of the handful of leading artists playing in traditional and mainstream idioms.
He did so on the back of one of the most beautiful instrumental sounds in jazz, a prodigious gift for phrasing melody, and an acute harmonic sense which revealed his awareness of more modernist developments in jazz. Louis Armstrong remained his touchstone and only avowed master, but his playing also reflected the influence of musicians like Bix Beiderbecke and Bobby Hackett. His musical voice, though, was always very much his own.
He was born Reuben Braff in Boston, and was self-taught on his instrument. He said that he wanted to play saxophone, but his father bought him a cornet instead. His trumpet style, which largely eschewed high-note pyrotechnics in favour of a softer exploration of the middle and bottom registers of the instrument, reflected that original love of reed rather than brass sonorities.
He began working in local clubs in the Forties, and was recruited for the band led by the veteran clarinettist Edmond Hall at the Savoy Cafe in Boston in 1949. He made the move to New York in 1953, and was soon in demand for gigs and recording sessions in a traditional and mainstream vein.
His loyalty to traditional jazz at a time when the focus had shifted to more modern styles starved him of work for a time in the Fifties, but he returned to prominence with an All-Star touring band created by pianist and jazz impresario George Wein. Wein remained a loyal backer of the cornetist, and featured him regularly on his international tour and festival circuit.