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George Braith

Saxophonist George Braith is an enduring product of the 1960’s Blue Note jazz team, recording three albums for the Blue Note label from 1963 to 1964 and Prestige in 1966. Currently the famous jazz label has reissued the classic George Braith double CD box set The Complete Blue Note Sessions. The inventor of the Braithophone, two different horns (straight alto and soprano) mended together by extensions, valves and connections, in essence a double horn modified stritch and saxophone with different bells on the end. The relived multi-instrumentalist has survived many of his peers. The old guard, like John Coltrane, Roland Kirk, Dizzy Gillespie, and Sonny Stitt, those musicians Braith had the privilege to perform and meet up with during their gallant days in New York. Performing at clubs like the Savoy, Village Vanguard, or the Blue Note, where you could step out of one joint to the next. Jazz club hopping was an integral part of the nightlife. While fame and fortune vaguely eluded Braith, he’s still a compelling individual today. Born George Braithwaite on June 27, 1939 in New York, and the youngest of nine children, celebrated his 67th birthday in Milwaukee recently. In town for some impromptu performances and visiting his daughters and friends when I caught up to him playing pool (with Milwaukee vocalist Joe Jordan) at the Hop-Inn on east Burleigh street. Soft spoken and unsuspectingly witty, this jazzman continues to record on his Excellence label, tours and perform many of his original works. Purchase his music or to get additional info on George go to

JAZZREVIEW.COM: This isn’t your first time to Milwaukee, what’s your connection here.

GEORGE BRAITH: My ex-wife, this is her hometown and some of my kids live here, Jasmin and Chime.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: Has any comparison between your playing style and that of Roland Kirk’s hinder your career or relationship at Blue Notes.

GEORGE BRAITH: Well I was in the embryonic stage, we use to do like choral things like shout, shout chorus. I really hadn’t thought about competing with him because he use to do some phenomenal things like playing flute through his nose and stuff like that-he was a phenomenal guy. We got along pretty well. At one point after I signed with Blue Note, then he got mad. Then the competition started.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: You being from NY and Roland Kirk from Ohio did you guys ever cross paths.

GEORGE BRAITH: Oh yeah, well he’s really responsible for me actually getting into it to a certain extent. I had a steady gig on 125th street at a club called The Purple Manor. There was an organ trio group and one night this guy came in with a couple of horns and he played two or three and just blew me out the place. I can still remember that night, I went home looking in the mirror putting two horns in my mouth-that got me started into it. He (Roland) came by many times after that. We had a pretty good relationship. You know I use to play a stritch, actually a straight alto and he had a stritch basically the same horn except his had a trombone bell at the bottom. He was trying to tell me that our two horns were different, well he couldn’t see (Roland Kirk sightless by age 6). I said no Roland they’re the same horn (laughing), that was our argument. I was on the road a lot during this time and one day when I came in town one of my extensions fell off. I went to an instrument repairman on 49th Street and 8th Avenue, while he was soldering the extension back on I noticed about 10 pictures of Roland Kirk on the walls, I said man what are you doing with all these pictures of Roland on the wall and he told me that he takes care of his horns. The next time I saw Roland he had my extension on his horn.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: At 13 yrs old you and some friends joined the musician’s union, your parents had to approve of you staying out late in some of those smoke filled clubs. How did that all work out.

GEORGE BRAITH: Oh yeah well we had a band, Pete LaRoca, drummer had a Latin band we use to play standards plus original tunes and I just turned 13 we had this engagement that we all had to get into the union otherwise we couldn’t play. My parents didn’t approve of me playing jazz, father being a Pentecostal minister. I was a pretty good guy so I could pretty much do what I wanted to do so at 13 years old I got into union local 802. I didn’t start staying out till 4 AM until I was 15 years old. We use to play at dances that lasted till 11 or 12 at night, playing opposite Buddy Tate, that was a great experience with that band. Simultaneously, during the summer I had a place in the Catskill Mountains I use to take a band there and played for the whole season, 10 week.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: Sonny Rollins plays the pads on your CD .what are pads.

GEORGE BRAITH: That’s a funny coincidence. Coltrane called me up one day and said George I want you to call Albert, Pharaoh Sanders and Archie Shepp. I said to myself why is he telling me this for. He said he wanted us guys to come together and play. About 5 days later Coltrane died. Shortly after that I went out to the house to see his wife Alice. She says, wow it’s a coincidence you came by because ‘Trane came and visited me last night and he told me to tell you something he said he’s gonna visit you every Tuesday at 3PM so be prepared for him, we were pretty spiritual back then. I did that every Tuesday at 3’oclock, I was at the club I had, Museart. I’d get spiritual and try to feel his (Coltrane’s) presence and one Tuesday at 3’oclock someone knocks on the door of the club. I said wait a minute, all my friends knew don’t come around here during this time so I went to the door and asked who’s there? A voice says George is that you! Who’s this, it’s Sonny Rollins! (Laughing) I can’t turn him down, can’t tell him to get out of here, so I invited in. So we hung out for about two years. One day he came by my recording studio, he went to the microphone and said turn that machine on and he just started fingering the valves on his horn without blowing through it, you only hear the pads.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: What are you listening to these days / any artist out here who’s music moves you.

GEORGE BRAITH: I’m revisiting a lot of Coltrane’s stuff. Yeah, recently we had a marathon. I think it was three weeks of Coltrane around the clock in New York the beginning of this year. It really set the whole city on fire and anyone who knew Coltrane, everybody would come up and talk about him.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: If you could assemble a jazz group today (dead / alive) who would be your choice.

GEORGE BRAITH: Melvin Rhyne or Jerrod Gibbs on organ, Pete LaRoca, my original drummer who is a lawyer now, Reggie Workman on bass, and Albert Dailey on piano.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: In a recent March 2004 issue of JazzTimes, You were asked to create a Braithophone for saxophonist James Carter-did you figure out what to charge and did his order go through.

GEORGE BRAITH: I’m in the process, I have a corporation, Braithophone Institute is going to have the horn produced soon. Not only for James Carter but whoever wants to buy it, and a book on how to play it. I won’t release the book until I release the horn.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: George Braith
  • Interview Date: 7/1/2004
  • Subtitle: ...inventor of the Braithophone
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