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Mraz, George (9 September 1944-Present)

Bassist from Pisek, Czech Republic, who started out playing violin when he was seven years old and gravitated to the alto saxophone in high school.  He continued his studies at the Prague Conservatory and the Berklee School of Music in Boston, Massachusetts.

His career as a bassist started out as more of a curiosity than anything.  The bass player in one of the bands he played with was so bad, George was mystified. How hard can it be? he thought. He answered his own question by taking up the bass, relieved to discover the right notes could indeed be found.

By 1969, he was good enough to play with Dizzy Gillespie’s outfit in the Big Apple.  Shortly thereafter, he was scooped up by Oscar Peterson and joined his trio for a tour that lasted about two years.  In 1973, he joined the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra and he stayed with them for three years.  He also moonlighted with Stan Getz from 1974 to 1975.

In 1975, he appeared on the album, Zoot Sims & The Gershwin Brothers. He also played a rare date with Roland Hanna, and in 1976 met pianist Emil Viklicky, with whom he would record decades later.  In the meantime, he spent the balance of the ’70s and ’80s gigging with John Abercrombie, Bill Evans, Tommy Flanagan and the New York Jazz Quartet.  In 1988, he appeared on the CD, Carmen McRae Sings Monk.

George split with Flanagan in 1992, after ten years, and concentrated on free-lancing with artists and groups such as DIM, Grand Slam, Joe Henderson, Hank Jones, Manhattan Trinity and McCoy Tyner.

In the 1990s, he finally had a chance (and the time) to front his own band, a foursome that included Richie Beirach, Billy Hart and Rich Perry.  He also began to release CDs under his own name on the Milestone label, including his simply titled debut album, Jazz.  Other albums followed: Bottom LinesDuke’s PlaceMorava and Round About Monteverdi.

In 1997, he bumped into Emil Viklicky, and they planted the seeds for a project that would enjoy its fruition more than a decade later.  The idea was to combine Moravian folk music with jazz, and the result was Moravian Gems, released in 2008.  George and the singer on the album, Iva Bittova, had instant chemistry and plan to perform live (and perhaps record?) again.