Back to the Bass

Dallas-born Harry Babasin was one of jazz's great bass players--and is one of its most forgotten pioneers

In 1985, he went on his last tour with pianist John Bannister, but the comeback was short-lived: Babasin was diagnosed with emphysema, and he died three years later. If there was an obituary in the Los Angeles Times, it does not turn up in computer searches of the newspaper's archives.

Von and Roy Harte have their suspicions why Harry is ill-remembered by history: He liked to write articles defending West Coast jazz, insisting it was every bit as legit as the music being played back in New York. He was a loud-mouth in the best sense of the word--The Bear, forever roaring. Even if it meant he and his pals would get shut out by the so-called gatekeepers. Historians might treat them poorly, but they'll always have their music to prove their point: They were here, and they were brilliant.

"It bothers me we were kept out of the history books, but all our friends are in them," Harte says, chuckling. "Shorty Rogers and all those guys made the history books, so we felt like we made them too. That wasn't our aim. We didn't aim to make a name for ourselves. I do feel a little left out, but it will come out. I don't have to be around for that. We were the first bossa nova rhythm section, and nobody knows that. So what? In the long run, it's not important who gets credit."

Harry Babasin, The Bear, has been written out of jazz's history books, but his son is trying to fill in the blanks.
Harry Babasin, The Bear, has been written out of jazz's history books, but his son is trying to fill in the blanks.
Babasin booked the Trade Winds, a suburban L.A. club in 1952. Among his guests were Shorty Rogers (on trumpet), Shelley Manne (drums), and Marty Paich (piano).
Babasin booked the Trade Winds, a suburban L.A. club in 1952. Among his guests were Shorty Rogers (on trumpet), Shelley Manne (drums), and Marty Paich (piano).

Harte is asked if he is serious. He pauses for a moment, then lets out a deep breath and a loud laugh.

"OK, you're right. It is important. I'll stop the B.S. But I was and am too busy to let myself be let down by that. There will always be someone who appreciates us, and that's all that matters in the end. That's it."

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