Willie Ruff

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Willie Ruff
Born (1931-09-01) September 1, 1931 (age 83)
Genres Jazz
Occupation(s) Musician
Instruments French horn, double-bass

Willie Ruff (born September 1, 1931 in Sheffield, Alabama) is the hornist and bassist of the Mitchell-Ruff Duo (with pianist Dwike Mitchell) and one of the founders of the W. C. Handy Music Festival in Florence, Alabama. He was born in Sheffield, Alabama. The duo regularly performs and lectures all over the United States, Asia, Africa and Europe. Ruff attended the Yale School of Music as an undergraduate and graduate student, and has been a faculty member there since 1971, teaching music history, ethnomusicology, and arranging. In 1967, he was chosen by John Hammond to be the bass player for the recording sessions of Songs of Leonard Cohen, during which he, alone with Cohen, laid down the bed tracks for most of the songs on the album. In 1976-1977, he held a visiting appointment at Duke University, where he oversaw the jazz program and directed the Duke Jazz Ensemble. He is a 1994 inductee of the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame.

Ruff is founding Director of the Duke Ellington Fellowship Program at Yale, a community based organization sponsoring artists mentoring and performing with Yale students and young musicians from the New Haven Public School System.

Ruff's classes at Yale, often with partner Dwike Mitchell, were free-flowing jam sessions: roller-coaster rides through the colors of American Improvisational Music. The duo could play in the style of most notable jazz artists and related styles. They had a vast repertoire; taking in the full sweep of the genre. Classes were always packed; among the most popular offerings in Yale's inch thick book. A generation of Yale students was inspired to love this music.

In 1992, Ruff's memoir, titled "A Call to Assembly," was awarded the Deems Taylor ASCAP award. He has written profusely about Paul Hindemith, one of his teachers at Yale, and on his professional experiences with the American jazz composers, Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.

The Mitchell-Ruff Duo was formed in 1955 when Mitchell and Ruff left Lionel Hampton's band to form their own group. Mitchell and Ruff first met in 1947, when they were servicemen stationed at Lockbourne Air Force Base, near Columbus, Ohio. Mitchell, a 17-year-old pianist with the unit band, needed a bass player for an Air Force radio show, and he saw what he thought was a likely candidate in Ruff.

Ruff is known for uncovering links between traditional black gospel music, and unaccompanied psalm singing. Ruff's theory is that the Scottish Presbyterian practice of lining out (in which a precentor read or chanted a line of the psalm, which was then sung by the congregation) led to the call and response form of black gospel music.[1]

In 2007, Ruff co-created the documentary “The Conjoining of Ancient Song”, which focuses on a rapidly vanishing form of congregational singing.[2]


  • The Mitchell-Ruff Duo: Campus Concert (Epic, 1956)
  • The Mitchell-Ruff Duo: Jazz Mission to Moscow (Roulette Records, 1959)
  • The Mitchell-Ruff Duo: The Sound of Music by Rodgers and Hammerstein (Roulette, 1960)
  • The Mitchell-Ruff Duo plus Strings & Brass (Roulette, 1960)
  • The Mitchell-Ruff Duo Jazz for Juniors (Roulette, 1960)
  • Mitchell and Ruff: Brazilian Trip (Epic Records, 1967)
  • Dizzy Gillespie and the Mitchell Ruff Duo in Concert (Mainstream, 1971)
  • The Mitchell-Ruff Duo: Strayhorn: A Mitchell-Ruff Interpretation (Mainstream, 1972, 50th anniversary reissue Kepler Label - CD MR-2421)
  • Willie Ruff (solo French horn): Gregorian chant, plain chant, and spirituals recorded in Saint Mark's Cathedral, Venice (Kepler Label, c. 1982)
  • Virtuoso Elegance in Jazz - The Mitchell Ruff Duo - Kepler Label - M-R 1234, c.1984
  • Dizzy Gillespie and the Mitchell-Ruff Duo: Enduring Magic (Blackhawk Records, 1986)
  • Breaking the Silence - The Mitchell-Ruff Duo - Kepler Label - CD 2380, 2000
  • Les McCann - The Mitchell Ruff Trio - 20 Special Fingers

As Sideman[edit]

With Clifford Coulter

With Miles Davis

With Gil Evans

With Benny Golson

With Bobby Hutcherson

With Milt Jackson

With Lalo Schifrin

With Sonny Stitt

With Leonard Cohen


  1. ^ McCutcheon, Chuck (21 April 2007). "Indian, Black Gospel and Scottish Singing Form an Unusual Musical Bridge". Washington Post. Retrieved 14 December 2013. 
  2. ^ "Special documentary to be shown" 24 March 2007 Stillwater NewsPress. Retrieved 24 July 2012

External links[edit]