Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians
Mraz, George (Jiri)
Bassist George Mraz has dedicated his career to developing the melodic potential the bass in the modern jazz ensemble. From his early days with trumpeter Benny Bailey through his recent efforts as a leader, Mraz has created a lyrical style with an almost piano-like sense of phrasing.
George Mraz was born Jiri Mraz on September 9, 1944 in Pisek, Czechoslovakia. Growing up in Tabor, Czechoslovakia, Mraz began his musical education at the age of seven when he began to study the violin. During his high school years, George began to perform on the alto saxophone. Beginning in 1961, George studied at the Prague Conservatory where he concentrated his efforts on the upright bass. While a student at the conservatory, Mraz recorded his first sessions as a sideman with pianist/vibraphonist Karel Velebny.
Upon graduating from the conservatory in 1966, Mraz journeyed to Munich where he performed with several noted musicians including Benny Bailey, trumpeter Carmell Jones, saxophonist Don Menza and pianists Mal Waldron and Jan Hammer. Afterwards, George traveled to Switzerland where he performed in a trio with pianist Irene Schweizer and drummer Pierre Favre. In the spring of 1968, he received a scholarship to the Berklee School of Music in Boston. Part of Mraz’s decision to move to America was influenced by the political turmoil in Czechoslovakia at the time.
Upon arriving in the United States, Mraz studied composition and arranging at Berklee. During this time, George performed throughout Boston with trumpeters Clark Terry and Herb Pomeroy and pianist Herbie Hancock. In the winter of 1982, he received an offer from trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie to join his ensemble in New York. After a few weeks with Dizzy, Mraz recorded and toured with pianist Oscar Peterson for the next two years.
Upon leaving the Peterson group, Mraz became a member of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, a position he held until 1976. In 1973, Mraz changed his name to “George” and officially became a citizen of the United States. The same year, he joined pianist Sir Roland Hanna and drummer Mel Lewis on baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams’ album Ephemera. During this time, he began a lengthy professional association with Hanna.
Throughout his time with the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis orchestra, Mraz increased his profile as a sideman by performing and recording with tenor saxophonist Stan Getz from September 1974 until January 1975. 1974 also saw George performing with trumpeter Jon Faddis, tenor saxophonists Billy Harper and Bobby Jones and drummer Klaus Weiss.
On June 6, 1975, he recorded with tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims on his album Zoot Sims & The Gershwin Brothers. The album also featured the talents of Oscar Peterson, guitarist Joe Pass and drummer Grady Tate.
1977 proved to be a prolific year in Mraz’s recording career with sessions with flugelhorn player Art Farmer and alto saxophonist Art Pepper. On February 4, 1977, George joined pianist Tommy Flanagan on his album Eclypso, which also featured drummer Elvin Jones. He also joined Sir Roland Hanna’s ensemble the New York Jazz Quartet for the recording of their album Surge for the Enja label. On November 4, 1977, Mraz traveled to Germany to perform on guitarist John Scofield’s live album Live!
Throughout the late 1970s, Mraz continued to be an in demand musician with performances and recordings with tenor saxophonist Arnett Cobb and guitarist John Abercrombie. In late 1981, George joined the band Quest alongside pianist Richie Beirach, saxophonist ,a href="/encyclopedia/liebman-dave"> Dave Liebman and drummer Billy Hart. The group recorded their self-titled debut on December 28 & 29, 1981.
In August 1982, Mraz traveled to Holland to perform with tenor saxophonist Wayne Marsh on his album Star Highs. The following year, George performed with the quintet of Stan Getz and trumpeter Chet Baker. In 1984, he left Quest and continued to lend his talents on numerous sessions including dates with pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi. Mraz then performed with Getz’s quartet from 1985 until 1987.
In 1988, Mraz performed and recorded with singer Carmen McRae on her album Carmen Sings Monk. Joining tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse, pianist Larry Willis and drummer Al Foster. A highlight of the record is the song “Suddenly (In Walked Bud).” After a brief introduction from McRae, Mraz and the rest of the rhythm section play a descending chromatic line that perfectly sets up the rest of the song. Throughout the song, George provides an animated performance that serves to energize the ensemble. He begins his solo with a quote from Irving Berlin's “Blue Skies” and fills his time with subtle articulations that fully engage the melodic potential of the bass.
Following the fall of communism in 1990, Mraz made his first of several return vists to Prague. It was in Prague that George recorded Catching Up, his first album as a leader in 1991. In January 1992, he performed on Dizzy Gillespie’s album To Bird With Love, a live album which features several of alto saxophonist Charlie Parker’s most famous songs including “Anthropology” and “Ornithology.” A fine example of his talents on the record is their rendition of the song “Billie’s Bounce.” Mraz skillfully navigates the chord changes with a precise touch that fully evokes the quality of each chord. The song demonstrates George’s multi-faceted style that equally devotes time to both the rhythmic and melodic aspects of the bass. His powerful sense of swing drives the ensemble towards new and original ideas throughout the song.
1992 also saw Mraz co-leading an album with pianist Karel Ruzicka entitled Going Home. The following year, George recorded in a duo with pianist Adam Makowicz at the Maybeck Recital Hall in Berkeley, California as well as performing with trombonist Slide Hampton and vocalist Denise Jannah. 1993 also saw transcriptions of his solos being included in the book Concepts for Bass Soloing by authors Chuck Sher and Marc Johnson.
In 1994, Mraz began to tour with tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson and in the following year he formed the Keystone Trio with pianist John Hicks and drummer Idris Muhammad. Shortly after, George formed a quartet with Richie Beirach and Billy Hart. In June 1995, he recorded with violinist Stephane Grappelli and pianist Michel Petrucciani on their album Flamingo.
In June 1996, Mraz recorded with alto saxophonist Jerome Richardson on his album Jazz Station Runaway. The album also features the musical talents of drummer Lewis Nash and guitarist Russell Malone. The same month, George performed on tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano’s album Celebrating Sinatra alongside pianist Kenny Werner. In February 1997, he recorded the album American Meditation alongside his group Manhattan Trinity, which included Nash and pianist Cyrus Chestnut. The same year, Mraz released his album Bottom Lines, which Mraz recorded with a band that consisted of Chestnut, Al Foster and tenor saxophonist Rich Perry.
Mraz began 1998 by recording with trumpeter Lew Soloff on his album With a Song in My Heart. In November of the same year, George recorded the album Duke’s Place, which features several interpretations of composer Duke Ellington’s most well known standards including “Satin Doll” and “Mood Indigo.” In December 1999, he interpreted works by composers Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly and other twentieth-century European composers on Round About Bartok, an album he co-led with Richie Beirach and violinist Gregor Hubner.
In June 2000, Mraz recorded the album Morava, which featured the song “Aspen Leaf.” The following year, George contributed to guitarist Jim Hall’s album Jim Hall & Basses, which included several other bassists including Dave Holland, Charlie Haden and Christian McBride. On April 2, 2002, he recorded with Hanna on his album Milano, Paris, New York: Finding John Lewis.
In September 2004, Mraz recorded with pianist Hank Jones and drummer Paul Motian on Joe Lovano’s albumJoyous Encounter. Recorded for Blue Note Records, a shining example of George’s work on the album is the song “Six and Four.” Mraz expertly anchors the feel of the song by relying on grooves, which solidifies the freewheeling atmosphere of the song. George reinforces the song by providing lively ornamentations to further enhance the excitement. Along with Jones and Motian, he establishes a firm rhythmic and harmonic groundwork for Lovano to shine.
In 2006, Mraz along with Manhattan Trinity released the album The Gentle Rain. The following year, George returned to Prague to record his album Moravian Gems alongside violinist/vocalist Iva Bittova. The album features updated renditions of Moravian folk tunes. In September 2008, he joined Hank Jones in Tokyo for the recording of the pianist’s album Blue Minor.
Mraz remains active as both a sideman and a leader around the world.
Select Discography As a leader
As a leader
Catching Up (1991)
Going Home (1992)
Bottom Lines (1997)
Duke’s Place (1999)
Morava (2001) With Pepper Adams
With Pepper Adams
Ephemera (1973) With Iva Bittova
With Iva Bittova
Moravian Gems (2007) With Tommy Flanagan
With Tommy Flanagan
Eclypso (1977) With Dizzy Gillespie
With Dizzy Gillespie
To Bird With Love (1992) With Stephane Grappelli and Michel Petrucciani
With Stephane Grappelli and Michel Petrucciani
Flamingo (1995) With Jim Hall
With Jim Hall
Jim Hall & Basses (2001) With Sir Roland Hanna
With Sir Roland Hanna
Milano, Paris, New York: Finding John Lewis (2002) With Hank Jones
With Hank Jones
Blue Minor (2008) With Joe Lovano
With Joe Lovano
Celebrating Sinatra (1996)
Joyous Encounter (2004) With Manhattan Trinity
With Manhattan Trinity
American Meditation (1997)
The Gentle Rain (2006) With Wayne Marsh
With Wayne Marsh
Star Highs (1982) With Carmen McRae
With Carmen McRae
Carmen Sings Monk (1988) With Jerome Richardson
With Jerome Richardson
Jazz Station Runaway (1996) With John Scofield
With John Scofield
Live! (1977) With Lew Soloff
With Lew Soloff
With a Song in My Heart (1998) With Zoot Sims
With Zoot Sims
Zoot Sims & The Gershwin Brothers (1975) Contributor: Eric Wendell
Contributor: Eric Wendell