Jack Bruce, Cream Bassist, Bandleader and Solo Musician: An Appreciation

Jack Bruce
 Marek Hofman

Jack Bruce, the virtuoso bassist, bandleader, songwriter and singer best known for his tenure with Cream during the 1960s, passed away Saturday (Oct. 24) at the age of 71.

Jack Bruce, Bassist for Cream, Dies at 71

A message on Bruce's official website Saturday confirmed, "It is with great sadness that we, Jack's family, announce the passing of our beloved Jack: husband, father, granddad, and all round legend. The world of music will be a poorer place without him, but he lives on in his music and forever in our hearts."

Publicist Claire Singers told the Associated Press that Bruce died at his home in Suffolk, England. The cause of death was liver disease, according to the Guardian.

Born in Scotland, Bruce began playing bass as a teenager and studied at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. He left when the administration disapproved of his fondness for jazz. Bruce began his professional career during 1962 with Britain's Blues Incorporated, and in addition to Cream logged tenures with the Graham Bond Organization, John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, Manfred Mann, BLT with Robin Trower, BBM, West, Bruce & Laing, the Golden Palominos and Spectrum Road, as well as his solo work.

Jack Bruce, 'Reach for the Night': Song Premiere From Cream Star's First Album in a Decade

"I've been lucky to do a lot of different things and make a lot of music," Bruce told Billboard earlier this year, before the March release of his latest solo album, Silver Rails. "I think any artist, any true artist, wants to grow and stretch... I’m glad I've had those opportunities."

Leslie West, who played with Bruce in the group West, Bruce and Laing between 1972 and '74, called news of Bruce's death, "a sad day in my life... Everyone's life. Having played with Jack in West Bruce and Laing and having played with his son, Malcolm, the music world can shed a tear for one of the best bass players and musician on anyone's planet."

Vernon Reid, who played with Bruce in Spectrum Road, said last year that "Jack is just the most tasteful, accomplished player you can imagine. He just has great feel and never plays anything that doesn't serve or advance the music. He's really extraordinary."

Bruce will, of course, be best-known for the less then three-year active career of Cream between 1966 and '68 and for the heavy footprint the group made considering it released just four albums made during that time.

"There was a freeing of people's kind of consciousness back then," he noted. "I think [Ginger Baker] and myself brought the free jazz influence to rock, and [Eric Clapton] certainly brought the blues  -- not that there hadn't been other people doing things like that, but I think we were the first band that got a lot of attention for doing it."

What Cream accomplished, of course, was showing an audience that the two forms had plenty in common.

"Let's just take Ornette Coleman as an example; there's a lot of blues influences in there, really as there is in all really great jazz," Bruce explained. "I think that's at the basis of it. I think in a way I was trying to kind of forget this language that I thought would apply to all kinds of music, folk music from all over the world. They're all expressing similar ideas and using similar scales to express it."

Cream has reunited periodically over the years -- for its 1993 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, for concerts during 2005 in London and New York City and almost at the 2007 tribute to Atlantic Records' founder Ahmet Ertegun back in London that Led Zeppelin famously headlined. Around that time Bruce declared that "Cream is over," though he expressed mixed feelings about whether the group could have been held together back in 1969.

"I often think we could have not been so badly managed and so kind of used up, he says. "We were never really given a chance to catch our breath and certainly never really given a chance to write together. I think if that had happened we might well have stayed together a little longer -- that and if the manager had been a little less greedy and had said, 'Why don't you take six months off and just go somewhere and write some stuff and come up with some new ideas. Then maybe it wouldn't have gotten stale.

"On the other hand, I feel that we had more or less said what we had to say as a band. I think a lot of bands stay together, and maybe it's not such a great thing. Not everybody's Duke Ellington."

Silver Rails was Bruce's first new solo album in a decade, and he said, that he "hadn't really thought about making a solo studio album, but I was approached by the guy from the record company, Mark Powell, who's a guy who's put out a lot of my back catalog in the past, and he suggested I might want to do that. And of course I jumped at the chance 'cause I thought it was a good time to make a new album."

Bruce did some touring to promote Silver Rails and was also planning for future music, including a second album with Spectrum Road -- the all-star project (Living Colour's Vernon Reid, John Medeski, Cindy Blackman Santana) formed to pay homage to the late drumming great Tony Williams -- as well as another solo album he hoped to release sooner rather than later.

"I've already got a couple of songs, so hopefully it will be just as easy and natural as (Silver Rails) was," Bruce said.

Memorial arrangements for Bruce have not yet been announced.