Bob Cranshaw. Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images
Bob Cranshaw, a versatile bassist heard in Broadway pit bands, on television and on thousands of jazz recordings — but probably best known as a longtime anchor in bands led by the eminent saxophonist Sonny Rollins — died on Nov. 2 at his home in Manhattan. He was 83.
The cause was cancer, said Karyn Scott-Harden, his stepdaughter.
Mr. Cranshaw, who had a bedrock authority with rhythm and a keen ear for harmony, appears on more than a few jazz albums regarded as classics, including the trumpeter Lee Morgan’s “The Sidewinder” and the saxophonist Joe Henderson’s “Inner Urge.” His first with Mr. Rollins, in 1962, was “The Bridge,” another classic; his last was “Holding the Stage: Road Shows, Vol. 4,” a compilation released this year.
“He was impeccable,” Mr. Rollins said in an interview this week. “And he had a steady gig with me, but Bob also played with probably every musician in New York. I mean, that might be a slight exaggeration. But it attests to his versatility, and to the fact that he was a great bass player.”
Mr. Cranshaw worked closely for decades with Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, which elected him to its executive board in 2012. He had experience with the life of a session musician, contributing to countless jingles and film scores and to albums by pop artists like Paul Simon.
He was also a member of the first “Saturday Night Live” band and held prominent positions in the bands on several late-night talk shows, notably those of Dick Cavett and Merv Griffin. As the house bassist for the Children’s Television Workshop, he can be heard on many songs featured on “Sesame Street,” including the show’s original theme song.
Melbourne Robert Cranshaw was born on Dec. 3, 1932, in Chicago. He grew up in the nearby suburb of Evanston, Ill., to Stanly Cranshaw, a choir director, and the former Evelyn Brown.
He played bass in his high school orchestra and, after serving in the Army in Korea, returned to Chicago and became a presence on the local jazz scene.
He first met Mr. Rollins in 1959, in a highly public setting: the inaugural Playboy Jazz Festival, at the Chicago Stadium. Mr. Rollins needed a last-minute substitute bassist, and Mr. Cranshaw made a favorable impression. He moved to New York soon afterward, and was quickly in demand.
In addition to Ms. Scott-Harden, Mr. Cranshaw is survived by his wife of 39 years, Bobbi; another stepdaughter, Stacey Stearns; three children from his first marriage, Myra Grissom, Kim Cranshaw and Cheryl Blue; and seven grandchildren. His first two marriages ended in divorce.
Mr. Cranshaw injured his back in a car accident in the early 1970s, leading him to switch to electric bass, on which he developed a ripe and swinging style. “He made the electric bass sound very much like an acoustic bass,” said Mr. Rollins, who nevertheless endured criticism for featuring the instrument in his bands.
“I couldn’t always get Bob when I wanted him,” Mr. Rollins added, citing the high demand for Mr. Cranshaw’s services and his occasional reluctance to go on tour. “I would have liked to get him more than I was actually able to work with him. But whenever I could, I did.”