Ronald Rubin

Popular and prolific jazzman whose impeccable, intonation and swing were assured and inventive


Ron Rubin, the Liverpool-born jazz musician who was for many years at the centre of the British jazz world, both as pianist and bassist, has died aged 86. Admirers have praised his playing as strong, assured and inventive.

The list of musicians Ron played with reads like a Who’s Who of British Jazz. They include Dick Williams, Brian Leake, the Fairweather-Brown band, and the avant garde Mike Taylor. He accompanied many visiting American musicians with Bruce Turner, and he was involved in Live New Departures, the jazz and poetry sessions with Mike Horovitz.

He worked for long periods at the Indigo Jazz Club in Palma de Mallorca, opened by Ramon Farran and Robert Graves, playing there with such jazz stars as Ronnie Scott and Tubby Hayes. Robert Graves occasionally sat in on drums and as Ron once said – “there can’t be many jazzmen who can boast of having played in a rhythm section that included Robert Graves!”

Ronald was born in Calderstones, Liverpool, to David and Louise Rubin. Music was important to the family and he and his five siblings learned piano as very young children, taught by Miss Moody, one after another on a Sunday. Ronnie’s father David, a trained cantor, had a fine bass-baritone voice and he would often lead the congregation at synagogue services on holy days.

His brother John learned to play vibraphone, piano and trombone,while Ron tried to teach himself guitar and clarinet, but it was the piano that really inspired him.

Ron became interested in jazz in his early teens as a student at Liverpool College school, but was suspended for playing jazz on the school piano! That didn’t put him off but on leaving school he began to study law under his Uncle Abe, the surrealist painter Abraham Newman.

The law wasn’t for him and he soon signed up for the Army, even though he hadn’t yet been called up for National Service. He spent some time in Germany and while stationed there he played piano with the Rhine River Jazz and Germany Rhine bands. On being demobbed in 1953 he played some gigs around Merseyside and in London’s Soho but he was still semi-professional at this time, while working in his father’s estate agency office.

In 1955, the family suffered the tragic loss of Ronnie’s brother Michael, only 20 years old when he was killed in a road accident.

Still in Liverpool, Ronnie took up double bass and within a few weeks he was doing gigs with Ralph “Bags” Watmough and Tony Davis’s Gin Mill Four (who became the Liverpool Spinners). In 1957, he played opening night at the Cavern Club with the Merseysippi and Watmough bands.

After his father died in 1959 Ronnie handed the family business over to his younger brother John. In that same year Ron met Marie Joyce, his wife-to-be, at the Jacaranda Club in Liverpool and in 1961 they moved to London. In 1969 Ronnie and Marie moved out to Mallorca with their four children

Back in the UK in the ’70s and ’80s, Ron toured with many well known bands such as the Lennie Best Quartet, Sandy Brown, Keith Ingham, John Picard, Alex Welsh, and with his good friend Colin Purbrook, also accompanying well known singers such as Billy Eckstine. He recorded regularly, and Humphrey Lyttleton claimed his playing with Tony Coe on the album Coe-Existence was in “that select category whose sound, intonation and swing merit the term “impeccable”.

Into the ’90s he toured with various musicians as well as doing solo gigs around Europe and touring with Donald Swann for the Swann In Jazz shows. He was with George Melly and John Chilton’s Feetwarmers for four years, first on bass then on piano. He began to slow down after surviving cancer in 2001 but it was an enjoyable occasion when he was able to play with his brother John in 2006 at the Isle of Man Jazz Festival.

Ron was a great humourist and loved words almost as much as music. He was a published haiku, clerihew and limerick writer and was a frequent winner of competitions in the literary weeklies. One of his prizewinning haiku is included on the Haiku Pathway at Katikati in New Zealand where haikus have been engraved on to the huge boulders that line the river there. It goes: above the flood plain/ A double rainbow/ promises/ promises. Humphrey Lyttleton, writing again of Ron in a foreword to A Fanfare of Musical Limericks (1986)said: “Any musician will tell you that [Ron’s] limericks are no haphazard exercises in doggerel, but encapsulate profound truth.” Here is an example:

There was a trombonist called Herb,

Whose playing, though loud, was superb;

When neighbours complained,

Young Herbert explained:

“But great art is meant to disturb!”

In his later years, Ron spent many happy hours writing his Jottings from a Jazzman’s Journal, an anecdotal (as yet unpublished) record of his life as a musician, a fascinating and personal view of the history of jazz in Britain from the 1950s to 1990s. He died suddenly and is survived by his wife Marie, their children, grandchildren, great-grandson, his sisters and brother.


Ronald Rubin: born July 8, 1933.Died April 14, 2020

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