Eugene Wright, Longtime Brubeck Quartet Bassist, Dies at 97

Eugene Wright, a distinguished bass participant who toured the world and recorded some 30 albums, along with the landmark “Time Out,” in his decade with the Dave Brubeck Quartet, died on Dec. 30 all by the Valley Glen neighborhood of Los Angeles. He was 97.

Caroline Howard, the executor of Mr. Wright’s property, confirmed his demise, at an assisted dwelling facility.

Mr. Wright, a solidly swinging timekeeper most fascinating acknowledged for his work with the Count Basie Orchestra all by the late 1940s, merely shouldn’t be going to in 1958 have appeared the one assorted for the superior fashionable jazz compositions that customary the overwhelming majority of Mr. Brubeck’s repertoire.

“It shouldn’t have worked, but Dave had an ESP about musicians and knew somehow Eugene would work,” Philip Clark, the creator of “Dave Brubeck: A Life In Time” (2020), acknowledged in a cellphone interview. “Eugene was a light-fingered player who could swing heavily, but he had a spongy sound that gave albums like ‘Time Out’ and very intricate pieces like ‘Three to Get Ready’ a chamber music quality.”

On Feb. 5, 1958, the quartet was onstage for a soundcheck before a performance at East Carolina College (now University), in Greenville, N.C., when the dean of student affairs demanded to know why Mr. Wright was there. The school did not let Black people perform onstage.

“If Eugene can’t play, we won’t play,” Mr. Brubeck told the dean, and the dean reported the stalemate to the school’s president, John D. Messick, who called Gov. Luther Hodges’s office for advice, according to an article last year in Our State, a North Carolina magazine. Mr. Messick made a deal with Mr. Brubeck: The quartet could go on, but with Mr. Wright in the background.

Mr. Brubeck quickly subverted the deal by telling Mr. Wright that his microphone was broken and that he had to perform his solo at the announcement mic in front of the band.

“We were waiting to go on for an hour, an hour and a half maybe, and man, when finally we went on, we smoked,” Mr. Wright was quoted as saying in Mr. Clark’s Brubeck biography. “The audience, they knew what had happened. They’d been kicking the floor and chanting because they wanted us to play, and boy, I remember the roar when we hit the stage.”

Soon after that, the quartet left on a long tour, sponsored by the State Department, of Poland, Iran, Iraq, India, Afghanistan, Turkey, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

In 1960, Mr. Brubeck refused to play 23 dates at Southern colleges and universities because he would not replace Mr. Wright with a white bassist. And in 1964, the quartet defied picketing and threats of violence by the Ku Klux Klan and performed before an integrated audience at the University of Alabama’s Foster Auditorium in Tuscaloosa.

Eugene Joseph Wright was born on May 29, 1923, in Chicago to Mayme (Brisco) Wright and Ezra Wright. His mother played piano, and, after studying the cornet in high school, Gene taught himself the string bass. He formed his own group, the Dukes of Swing, in his early 20s, and went on to play bass with, among others, Basie, the saxophonist Gene Ammons and the vibraphonists Red Norvo and Cal Tjader. Mr. Wright’s idol was Walter Page, best known for his long stint as Basie’s bassist.

When Norman Bates quit as the Brubeck quartet’s bassist in 1958, Mr. Morello suggested that Mr. Wright try for the slot. Mr. Wright auditioned at Mr. Brubeck’s house in Oakland, Calif.

“There was a big, beautiful piano, and Dave said, ‘What do you want to play?’” Mr. Wright told Mr. Clark in an interview in 2017 for his biography. They agreed on “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”

“He started playing his version of the tune” — which the quartet had recorded in 1955 — “and we played the first chorus fine, but in the second chorus he made a mistake, which didn’t happen too often,” Mr. Wright recalled. “Now, I hadn’t played with him before, but I knew how to listen and I had a good ear and he carried on playing and I waited until — bang — I caught up with him, made it right.

“Dave was delighted with how that afternoon went and offered me the job.”

Mr. Wright stayed with the quartet until the end of 1967, when Mr. Brubeck disbanded it to focus on composing. The group reunited occasionally over the years. Mr. Wright was the last surviving member.

He is survived by his daughters, Adrianne Wright and Rosita Dozier, and a son, Stewart Ayers. His marriage to Jacqueline Winters ended in divorce. His second wife, Phyllis (Lycett) Wright, died in 2006.

In the decades after the Brubeck quartet broke up, Mr. Wright played with the pianist Monty Alexander’s trio and worked on soundtracks for film and television studios. He also performed at private parties until 2016 and gave private lessons until three years ago.

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