Ruby Braff, 75, the jazz cornetist whose elegance on the horn was offset by an abrasive personality that left him many fans but few friends, died Feb. 9 at a nursing home in North Chatham, Mass. He had emphysema but continued to tour worldwide until recent months, often playing two sets a night.
Mr. Braff, a resident of Dennis, Mass., made more than 250 albums with some of the greatest figures in jazz, notably pianists Ellis Larkins, Dick Hyman and Ralph Sutton and guitarist George Barnes. He was associated with players including the eccentric Dixieland clarinetist Pee Wee Russell and singer Tony Bennett.
Music critic Nat Hentoff called Mr. Braff "the most lyrical cornetist in jazz since the departure of Louis Armstrong and Bobby Hackett."
His playing was instantly recognizable for its long, delicate notes, finished by a silvery vibrato. He added quick runs of notes and blue notes for effect, never gilding the song but always searching for ways to lend gentle distinction.
An exceptional balladeer on songs such as "I Cover the Waterfront," Mr. Braff also was superb at faster tempos.
He remained something of an outsider throughout his career. Partly it was his attraction to the so-called "great American songbook" that isolated him from the horn-playing pace-setters of his generation, such as Dizzy Gillespie and Clifford Brown. Mr. Braff disdained the flashy, upper register bravura of hard bop.
His brash personality was a major factor in the vicissitudes of his popularity. He was a pugnacious man with a lifelong hatred of critics who had dismissed his repertoire. He had angry, epithet-filled encounters with booking agents and music-lovers who asked unwanted questions about his career.
"The beauty ended abruptly when he took the horn from his mouth," Steve Voce wrote in the London Independent.
After a period of acclaim in the early 1950s, he found it difficult to find steady work because his music was considered out of fashion in many circles.
A resurgence followed in the 1960s, when he toured with the Newport Jazz Festival All Stars, whose producer, George Wein, became one of his champions.
He played with Bennett in the early 1970s and then paired with Barnes in an acclaimed quartet that broke up when he had a falling out with the guitarist.
"I hated George, and he hated me," Mr. Braff told the Times of London. "It was all right when we were playing, but the minute we stopped playing, we'd see each other and we'd hate each other."
Reuben Myer Braff was born in Roxbury, Mass., the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants. He was drawn to music through the radio and became an Armstrong aficionado. He was largely self-taught on the instrument, having fired his first music teacher after six months for not knowing enough.
According to his surviving sister, their mother discouraged Mr. Braff from a career in music and dissuaded him from applying to the Juilliard School.
Mr. Braff played extensively in the Boston area in the 1940s and began a musical relationship with Russell and Edmond Hall, musicians of an older generation who were experiencing a comeback in the Dixieland revival. Years later, Mr. Braff played mentor to younger generations of players, such as saxophonist Scott Hamilton.
Mr. Braff first drew attention with his 1953 recordings with trombonist Vic Dickinson, in which he outshone many veteran performers. In 1955, he and Larkins recorded "Two by Two," duets of songs by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart that are still placed among the top jazz collaborations ever made.
For all his bluster, Mr. Braff could turn positively worshipful when asked about songwriters of the golden era of jazz pop, including George and Ira Gershwin, Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Green.
He once said Rodgers so liked his duets with Larkins that the songwriter hired him to play music and act in Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein's 1955 musical "Pipe Dreams." The show ran for 246 performances.
"During the rehearsals, I was able to sit and watch [Rodgers] work every day," he said. "If they asked for another sixteen bars, he would sit down and write them right there and then at the piano, and then Oscar Hammerstein would write the words. I can still hardly believe that it all happened."
In the 1950s, he played with clarinetist and bandleader Benny Goodman. Most recently, he was recording for the Arbors label.
He told the Chicago Tribune he was essentially "a performing animal."
"Were I not playing the horn, I'd be in vaudeville -- a magician, a comic, something on the stage," he said. "And the reason I know that is that I know how I responded to performers, even when I was a baby.
"I'd hear something on the radio . . . and it would just stir things in me, drive me crazy. I, too, wanted to make noises like that and excite somebody the way those noises excited me."
Survivors include a sister, Susan Atran of Stoughton, Mass., who said her brother was voted best comedian in high school.