Ray Brown was born October 13, 1926, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and took piano lessons from the age of eight. After noticing how many pianists attended his high school, he thought of taking up the trombone, but was unable to afford one. With a vacancy in the high school jazz orchestra, he took up the upright bass.
A major early influence on Brown's bass playing was Jimmy Blanton, the bassist in the Duke Ellington band. As a young man Brown became increasingly well known in the Pittsburgh jazz scene, with his first experiences playing in bands with the Jimmy Hinsley Sextet[a] and the Snookum Russell band. After graduating high school, having heard stories about the burgeoning jazz scene on 52nd Street in New York City, he bought a one-way ticket to New York. He arrived in New York at the age of 20, met up with Hank Jones, with whom he had previously worked, and was introduced to Dizzy Gillespie, who was looking for a bass player. Gillespie hired Brown on the spot, and he soon played with such established musicians as Art Tatum and Charlie Parker. In 1948, Brown left Dizzy's band to start a trio with Hank Jones and Charlie Smith.
From 1946 to 1951, Brown played in Gillespie's band. Brown, along with the vibraphonist Milt Jackson, drummer Kenny Clarke, and pianist John Lewis formed the rhythm section of the Gillespie band. Lewis, Clarke, and Jackson eventually formed the Modern Jazz Quartet. Brown became acquainted with singer Ella Fitzgerald when she joined the Gillespie band as a special attraction for a tour of the southern United States in 1947. The two married that year, and together they adopted a child born to Fitzgerald's half-sister Frances, whom they christened Ray Brown, Jr. Fitzgerald and Brown divorced in 1953, bowing to the various career pressures both were experiencing at the time, though they would continue to perform together.
From 1951 to 1965, Brown was a member of the Oscar Peterson Trio. The trio included a guitarist until 1958 (initially Barney Kessel, and then Herb Ellis). After Ellis left the group, Peterson decided to continue the trio with Brown and drummer Ed Thigpen. Brown recorded extensively as a session musician for producer Norman Granz during the 1950s (for Granz's Clef, Norgran, and Verve record labels), often alongside Peterson. After leaving the Oscar Peterson Trio, Brown concentrated on studio work in Los Angeles.
From 1974 to 1982, Brown performed and recorded a series of albums with guitarist Laurindo Almeida, saxophonist and flutist Bud Shank, and drummer Shelly Manne (replaced by Jeff Hamilton after 1977) under the name The L.A. Four.
In the 1980s and 1990s Brown led his own trios and continued to refine his bass playing style. In his later years he recorded and toured extensively with pianist Gene Harris. In the early 1980s, Brown met Diana Krall in a restaurant in Nanaimo, British Columbia. According to Jeff Hamilton, in an interview recorded on the Diana Krall Live in Rio DVD, he first heard Krall play at a workshop and, impressed with her piano skills (she was not yet singing), introduced her to bassist John Clayton. Hamilton and Clayton both encouraged Krall to move to Los Angeles to study under Brown and others. In 1986 Brown played bass on the song “Poisoned Rose” on Elvis Costello’s King of America album. In 1990, he teamed up with pianist Bobby Enriquez and drummer Al Foster, for Enriquez's album, The Wildman Returns.
Around the same time, Brown made seven albums with pianist André Previn when, after a hiatus of two decades, Previn returned to jazz to perform and record regularly again between 1989 and 2002: After Hours (1989, with guitarist Joe Pass), Uptown (1990, with guitarist Mundell Lowe), Old Friends (1992, live recording, with guitarist Mundell Lowe), Kiri Sidetracks. The Jazz Album (1992, with singer Kiri Te Kanawa and guitarist Mundell Lowe), What Headphones? (1992, with Mundell Lowe, Jim Pugh on trombone, Warren Vache on cornet, Richard Todd on horn, Grady Tate on drums, and The Antioch Baptist Choir), André Previn and Friends Play Show Boat (1995, with Mundell Lowe and Grady Tate), and Jazz at the Musikverein (1997, live recording, with Mundell Lowe). Brown and Previn had recorded together before in the 1960s on 4 To Go! (1963, with guitarist Herb Ellis and drummer Shelly Manne) and Right as the Rain (1967, with singer Leontyne Price). An hour-long film, Together on Broadway. The Making of Sidetracks documents the work on the album Kiri Sidetracks. The Jazz Album.
Brown played for a time with the "Quartet" with Monty Alexander, Milt Jackson, and Mickey Roker. After that he toured again with his own trio, with several young pianists such as Benny Green, Geoffrey Keezer, and Larry Fuller. The last edition of the Ray Brown Trio included pianist Larry Fuller and drummer Karriem Riggins. With that trio, Brown continued to perform until his death in 2002.
Ray Brown married Ella Fitzgerald in 1947. The couple adopted a son, Ray Jr., but the marriage did not last long, as work kept them apart. Ray and Ella divorced in 1953, but remained friends and occasionally worked together.
Awards and honors
In 1995, Brown was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Berklee College of Music. In 2001, Brown was awarded the Austrian Cross of Honour for Science and Art, 1st class and in 2003, he was inducted into the DownBeat Jazz Hall of Fame.
- Brown, Ray (1999). Ray Brown's Bass Method: Essential Scales, Patterns, and Exercises. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 978-0793594566.
Notes and references
- "Ray Brown Jazz Profile". NPR. Retrieved June 16, 2021.
- Martin, Douglas (July 4, 2002). "Ray Brown, Master Jazz Bassist, Dies at 75". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 20, 2017.
- Feather, Leonard; Gitler, Ira (2007). The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz. Oxford University Press. p. 86. ISBN 978-0195320008.
- "Ray Brown – Concord Music Group". Concord Music Group. Retrieved May 23, 2017.
- Shipton, Alyn (1999). Groovin' High: The Life of Dizzy Gillespie. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195144109.
- Holden, Stephen (June 16, 1996). "Ella Fitzgerald, the Voice of Jazz, Dies at 79". The New York Times.
- "Steely Dan Sunday, "Razor Boy" (1973)". Something Else! Reviews. June 5, 2011. Retrieved May 23, 2017.
- Yanow, Scott. "The L.A. 4" (Web site AllMusic)
- "Diana Krall Biography". B.H. Hopper Management. Retrieved April 10, 2015.
- Yanow, Scott. "The Wildman Returns". AllMusic. Retrieved April 10, 2014.
- Just released on VHS, the film is now available through Kiri Te Kanawa's official Youtube channel.
- "Masters At Work: Milt Jackson Quintet featuring Ray Brown – "That's The Way It Is"". The Jazz Record – Explorations into Vintage Jazz Vinyl. Retrieved May 20, 2017.
- "Ray Brown". discogs. Retrieved May 20, 2017.
- Ray Brown – Legendary Jazz Bassist. Hal Leonard Corporation. February 2015. ISBN 9781495017889.
- "Ray Brown". Biography.com. Retrieved May 20, 2017.
- Martin, Douglas (July 4, 2002). "Ray Brown, Master Jazz Bassist, Dies at 75". The New York Times.
- "Hank Jones, Mccoy Tyner, Enrico Rava Honored by Berklee College of Music at Umbria Jazz". home.nestor.minsk.by. Retrieved March 18, 2018.
- "Reply to a parliamentary question" (PDF) (in German). p. 1442. Retrieved December 22, 2012.
- "DownBeat Archives". Down Beat. Retrieved May 20, 2017.
- "The Gravy Waltz – Oscar Peterson | Song Info | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved May 20, 2017.