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7/7/09

Ray Bryant Trio 1972



It was his solo Prestige album, Alone with the Blues, that first hipped me to Ray Bryant, and made me an instant fan. We recently lost Ray, he passed away June 2, 2011, but he left a rich legacy of performances as well as pleasant memories in the minds of those who were fortunate enough to know him beyond nods and handshakes. Philadelphia was Ray's hometown, so when I played his recordings on my WHAT-FM show—as I often did—the phone inevitably lit up. We finally met, thanks to Elmer Snowden, who had been a mentor of sorts to Ray in his pre-spotlight days. In the interview that is a part of the attached video, you will hear Ray mention that Elmer was one of his early bosses. The gigs were small and local in those days, but Elmer looked out for Ray and his bass-playing brother, Tommy—if there was no piano, Ray became a bongo player. Elmer's career went back beyond the time when he introduced young Duke Ellington to New York, having formed a band that became the genesis for the first in a long succession of Duke' Ellington orchestras. I bring this up to point out that the so-called generation gap existed for neither of them.

I had the privilege of working with Ray on a few occasion, including a session I produced for my own, short-lived company with a band that had brother Tommy on bass, Jo Jones on drums, Elmer on guitar, and an odd pairing up front: Roy Eldridge and Bud Freeman. It eventually came out on Fontana and Black Lion. 


There were also a couple of aborted Snowden sessions that I produced at Riverside, but decided to scrap, because they were not what I was looking for. The idea was to make an album featuring Elmer's banjo, but even with excellent "side" men, it wasn't happening. These "experiments" eventually yielded the Harlem Banjo album (with Cliff Jackson's stride piano), and I think that combination did the trick. The earlier, aborted sessions had Ray's trio (with Jimmy Rowser and Mickey Roker) and two horns: Gene Sedric and Garvin Bushell (who played bassoon, among other reeds). I guess those tapes are collecting dust in some California vault.


My most memorable—well, at least must unusual— memory of being with Ray was when we went to Scranton, PA and gave a bunch of enthusiastic middle-aged jazz fans a lot of hot music on a very cold weekend afternoon. Here's a link that will take you to my recollections of that event and give you a sample of the music. 

A long-haired yours truly and Afro-ed Ray

The attached video is one of  more than twenty half-hour shows that I hosted and co-produced for New Jersey State Television, a commendable channel that the current Republican Governor is tossing into the dumpster. This copy of the tape is not of stellar technical quality, but I don't have most of the Jazz Set shows, so I am  I am grateful to a good friend in California for sending it to me. It was obviously recorded off the air from the BET channel and I have no idea how or if they obtained permission to run it. BET (Black Entertainment Television) is consistently sloppy with its production work, so this tape bears the scars of mistreatment. I removed the commercials, which had been inserted willy nilly, so you will see a couple of jumps. It never ceases to amaze me that a channel dedicated to and aimed at a black audience almost routinely shows disregard for black artists.







Ray Bryant

Leroy Williams


Harold Dodson

8 comments:

  1. Thanks Chris! I knew it was coming, and you won't let Ray goes without a proper goodbye.

    As for Eldridge/Freeman/Snowden/Bryant LP, Saturday Night Fish Fry, don't you have any trace of it? I did a little bit of research, and as far as I saw, there is no CD release, but Japanese remastered Vinyls are available in Europe, and not too expensive.

    There is a huge, 5-year gap in Eldridge's discography of available digitized materials(1960-65), which your session can fill a part of that, and gives a better picture of a bunch of giants in their troubled years. I love to hear that album.

    Best,

    Ehsan

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  2. Thank you, Ehsan. Good to hear that you like the Snowden LP, which was issued under Roy's name by Alan Bates (Black Lion). He released the albums in a sloppy, sometimes unethical manner (there is a reason why second or third takes are made, and it is usually because the artist or producer was not satisfied with the first). I was particularly upset by his not acknowledging Elmer as the leader on that album, because a main reason for making it was to make up for decades of neglect. One of of my big regrets is having sold those masters to Alan.

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  3. Very nice. Ray was a giant and one of my favorite pianists. The man had so much soul it used to give me goosebumps just watching him play. We all will miss him. Thanks for the article.

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  4. Thank you so much for this, Chris.

    I was a young adult - almost a kid - in 1987/88 when of my best friends tape some Ray Bryant for me. It was my gate into jazz, and piano as well.
    My buddy and I both put up a show for him in an abbey at Orbais L'Abbaye (hence the name) in Champagne, France in July 1992. Back then his partner was a French woman with short blonde hair, who was a NYC resident and if my memories serve me right, a philosophy teacher there. That's when I first met Ray Bryant - my buddy already knew him.
    From then on, I caught him live several times, in Paris, Brussels... The last time was july 1996, at the North Sea Jazz Fest in Holland. Then I left France and lived in countries where jazz is not that big and almost lost any chance to hook up with him again.
    I miss the man - I felt like .... when I learned he had passed away.

    Thank you for this MAGNIFICENT blog (it's my first visit thanks to a friend who forwarded me the url) and thank you for sharing that beautiful Xmas 1962 sound clip with Papa Jo Jones, Tommy and Budd Johnson, and for this excerpt of one of your shows [you say during the interview it's the first since you talk to him since the Aretha Franklin debut lp - that was 1968 or so, the interview was what? 1980/81 ?]

    Thanks again, Chris.

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  5. Thank you for your comments, Chuchuni. Ray made an impression on many people, both as a person and an artist. Aretha's debut recordings for Columbia came out in 1960, if I remember correctly, but she was actually recorded earlier, in her father's church (Riverside issued those performances on the Battle label). The video from my show was made in 1972.

    Keep listening and learn more—I've been at it for more than 60 years, and I am still learning.

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  6. Thank you for this amazing article, Ray Bryant definitely an underrated piano player. Favorite track by him is Cubano Chant off of Lonesome Traveler which is a little more uptempo than most of the tracks on Alone with the Blues.
    dj nyc

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  7. Hi Chris,
    The video seems to have disappeared. I would love to see it again. Please re-upload!
    Thanks,
    Michael Weiss

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  8. Sorry about that, Michael. It's still in my database, but I guess I have to reroute it. I should have it fixed by the end of the day.

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