By PETER KEEPNEWS
uby Braff, a jazz trumpeter and cornetist who defied the odds by rising to fame in the modern era with a resolutely old-fashioned style, died on Sunday in North Chatham, Mass. He was 75 and lived in Harwich, Mass.
No cause of death was announced, but he had had lung disease for years, said a spokesman for Arbors Records, which released many of his most recent CD's.
In the early and middle 1950's Mr. Braff attracted attention not just for his mellifluous tone and his highly lyrical approach to improvisation but also for his devotion to a type of jazz that, as far as many critics and most of his contemporaries were concerned, had fallen out of vogue years earlier.
At a time when most young trumpet players were following the flash and bravura of Dizzy Gillespie or the acidic melancholy of Miles Davis, Mr. Braff's understated and uncomplicated melodicism was a throwback to the days when Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke set the standard for the instrument.
Not surprisingly, Mr. Braff made his name by performing and recording with musicians two decades older than he was, including the trombonist Vic Dickenson and the clarinetists Pee Wee Russell and Edmond Hall. Later in his career he became a mentor to a new generation of musicians who shared his fondness for older jazz, among them the saxophonist Scott Hamilton and the guitarist Howard Alden.
Despite Mr. Braff's reputation as a traditionalist, and his insistence that Armstrong was his only influence, neither his repertory nor his playing was mired in the past. He discreetly incorporated some modern harmonic ideas into his work, especially in his later years, and he was always open to a good melody, regardless of when it was written. The critic Harvey Pekar spoke for many admirers when he wrote, "Though Braff's style is rooted in the 1930's, it doesn't sound dated."
Even so, Mr. Braff — who could be as outspoken personally as he was soft-spoken musically — always maintained, loudly and angrily, that his traditionalist bent hurt his career. He once said that he hardly worked for a five-year period in the late 1950's and early 60's because promoters considered his music outmoded.
By the mid-70's the jazz world had grown considerably more open-minded, and after forming a quartet with the guitarist George Barnes in 1973, Mr. Braff was seldom without work as a headliner.
Reuben Braff was born in Boston on March 16, 1927. A self-taught musician, he began working locally at nightclubs and parties in the 1940's. His first significant musical job was a long engagement as a sideman with Edmond Hall at Boston's Savoy Cafe in 1949. After moving to New York in 1953, Mr. Braff began performing and recording regularly with some of the best-known musicians in the jazz mainstream.
He acquired a loyal following and received some admiring reviews, but in the ensuing years the popularity of more modern styles threatened to confine him to obscurity. He returned to prominence in the 1960's when he toured with the Newport All Stars, a group led by George Wein, the promoter and sometime pianist, who was among his biggest boosters. (Mr. Braff was on the bill at the first Newport Jazz Festival, produced by Mr. Wein in 1954, and he became a regular on Mr. Wein's worldwide festival circuit.)
In 1971 Mr. Braff began a two-year association with Tony Bennett, after which he and Mr. Barnes began touring and recording together extensively. Their quartet disbanded in 1975, but Mr. Braff remained busy as a freelancer, working frequently with the pianist Dick Hyman, the bassist Michael Moore and others.
A sister, Susan Atran of Stoughton, Mass, survives him.
Throughout his career Mr. Braff had very clear ideas about how jazz should and should not be played, and he was never shy about expressing them.
"Most people play three times louder than they should," he said in a 1997 Downbeat interview. "Music should be played at a conversational level — you can't shout a conversation."