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.