Ronnie Ross, born on October 2, 1933, in Calcutta, India, was a prominent British jazz baritone saxophonist and clarinetist known for his significant contributions to both the British and international jazz scenes. His distinguished career spanned over four decades, with his most notable works in the 1960s and 1970s.
At the age of eight, Ross and his family relocated to England, where his love for jazz was ignited. His early exposure to jazz came from his father, a doctor and amateur pianist who was an avid jazz enthusiast. Ross was drawn to the baritone saxophone, inspired by American jazz musicians like Harry Carney and Serge Chaloff.
In 1953, Ross took a significant step in his career by joining the band of drummer Tony Kinsey, one of the leading figures in British modern jazz. Ross’s baritone saxophone became a key element in Kinsey’s ensemble, contributing to the band’s distinctive sound. His collaboration with Kinsey marked the start of a prolific career in which he worked with numerous renowned musicians and groups, both within and outside the UK.
In 1956, Ross formed his own group, the Ronnie Ross Quartet. The group, which also included drummer Allan Ganley, bassist Stan Wasser, and pianist Bill Le Sage, became well-known for their interpretation of modern jazz. The Quartet’s music was characterized by Ross’s strong, melodic baritone saxophone lines, underpinned by tight rhythm sections. Their performances and recordings, which often included original compositions, were well-received and helped to establish Ross as a leading figure in British jazz.
Ross’s influence was not limited to the UK. He was an integral part of the Jazz Couriers, a group led by British jazz icons Tubby Hayes and Ronnie Scott. This ensemble, renowned for its powerful performances, put British modern jazz on the international map. Ross also worked with American jazz musicians, most notably as a member of the Quincy Jones Big Band.
One of Ross’s most enduring legacies was his work as a saxophone teacher. His most famous student was David Bowie, whom he taught in the 1960s. In an aside, Bowie’s 1975 hit “Young Americans” featured David Sanborn on alto sax. Despite his rock and roll connections, Ross remained dedicated to jazz, continuing to perform and record in various configurations.
Ross’s career came to an untimely end when he died of cancer on December 12, 1991. His contributions to jazz, both as a musician and a teacher, have left an indelible mark on the genre. His innovative approach to the baritone saxophone, combined with his talent for composing and arranging, ensured that Ronnie Ross’s music continues to inspire jazz musicians and enthusiasts alike.
Page last updated 6/21/2023.