Ron Carter at the Detroit Jazz Festival (Courtesy of Partisan Pictures)
Ron Carter at the Detroit Jazz Festival (Courtesy of Partisan Pictures)

The documentary “Ron Carter: Finding the Right Notes” is a gift to be cherished. Premiering Oct. 21 on PBS, this film covers a life of accomplishments with respect given by a parade of music artists who appreciate what Carter has given to every form of music. 

Carter, 85, is a giant in music physically at 6’4” and he holds the Guinness title for being the most recorded bass player. He maintains a busy recording and concert schedule with performances around the world. Audiences can’t wait to see the artist addressed as “Maestro” by fellow musicians and fans.

A young Ron Carter (Courtesy of Partisan Pictures)

“Finding the Right Notes” is more than the title of this documentary directed by Peter Schnall, it also captures Carter’s drive to discover more.

“My favorite thing is trying to find the right notes to get to a different level,” shares Carter early in the film.

Pianist, composer, bandleader and actor Jon Batiste interviews Maestro in between as Carter reflects on his upbringing, obstacles encountered while pursuing his music dreams, and the loss of fellow musicians and loved ones. A member of trumpeter Miles Davis’ second greatest quintet during the 1960s, Carter, along with pianist/composer Herbie Hancock, saxophonist/composer Wayne Shorter and the late drummer/composer Tony Williams were ready to make magic with their sound.

Beginning as Carter was approaching his 80th birthday, “Finding the Right Notes” took six years to complete. Maestro doesn’t dodge anything. His commitment to his music is clear, as is his appreciation for working with others and his family.

“Ron is a solid person,” says Hancock.

Carter is in demand beyond jazz which is why he has more than 2,500 recording credits. He performed with all the jazz greats such as Sam Rivers, Freddie Hubbard, Duke Pearson, Lee Morgan, McCoy Tyner, Andrew Hill, Horace Silver, George Benson, Stanley Clark, Roy Hargrove, Wallace Roney, Christian McBride, and so many more. 

Then there are artists outside of jazz whom Carter accompanied, including Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, Roberta Flack, Billy Joel, Gil-Scott Heron, and A Tribe Called Quest. All of his recordings are organized CDs cataloged alphabetically in his home.

“Every bass player today, whether they know it, like it, or whatever, when you play jazz bass, there’s a bit of Ron Carter in everyone,” said bassist/composer Clarke.

Spending almost two hours with this documentary left me wanting more time with Maestro. It feels good to hear his son Ron Jr. lovingly tell how his dad was available even with a packed recording and travel schedule. Carter’s second wife, Quintell Williams-Carter, talks about their shared sense of style. As a former model, she knows clothes and uses her skills to design and make clothes for her husband.

It’s hard to believe that Carter is 85 years old.  He walks with vigor, is still curious, lovingly shares with others, and has a sneaky sense of humor accompanied by a smile that convinces his fans he is not his age. Always working, Carter is currently in a residency for all of October at the historic Birdland Jazz Club in New York City.

Tune in for “Finding the Right Notes” on PBS beginning October 21. A soundtrack and book for the documentary are also available. Keep up with Carter on his website:  In the meantime, here is a clip from the documentary.

Brenda Siler is an award-winning journalist and public relations strategist. Her communications career began in college as an advertising copywriter, a news reporter, public affairs producer/host and a...

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