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Lyle Ritz, Wrecking Crew Bassist, Dies

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Lyle Ritz, a bassist who was one of the many top-level Los Angeles session musicians that comprised the “Wrecking Crew,” has died at the age of 87. In addition to playing the bass, he is also considered to be the “Father of the Jazz Ukulele.”

While the cause of death isn’t listed, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser says that he had been ill for a long time and was in hospice care in Portland, Ore. Ritz is survived by his wife, daughter, stepson and two granddaughters.

Born Jan. 10, 1930 in Cleveland, the Los Angeles Times says that he learned how to play the tuba and ukulele while a student at the University of Southern California. While stationed in Northern California with the U.S. Army Band during the Korean War, he transferred to the upright bass. A chance meeting with jazz guitarist Barney Kessel when on leave led to a pair of albums in the late ’50s called How About Uke? and 50th State Jazz that showcased his unique approach to ukulele, which involved playing complex jazz harmonies necessary for standards rather than strumming basic chords for traditional Hawaiian tunes.

However, they didn’t sell, and he wound up getting work as a studio bassist just as the rock scene in Los Angeles was starting to grow. Because credits from those days are spotty, it’s not precisely known how many songs he has played on. But NPR says he played on more than 5,000 sessions, and the booklet for the 1998 box set dedicated to the Beach BoysPet Sounds reveals that he played upright bass on 10 tracks and ukulele on “Caroline No.”

As he was playing rock bass in studios, his two ukulele records were proving to be influential in Hawaiian music circles. In the mid-80s, he was invited by ukulele teacher Roy Sakuma, who studied Ritz’s records in depth, to his annual festival in Waikiki and discovered an entire fanbase he never knew existed. He moved to Oahu for the 15 years, often performing at festivals, and he released seven more albums between 1998 and 2007.

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