was The Man! Number One! The First!
Article by “Beethoven” Jean-Michel Reisser, with the
help of Emil G. Davidson, the “Zipper”! Article added on August 1,
A musical biography of
the jazz bassist Ray
Ray Brown (1926-2002) was the First to take the bass from the back of the band and place it up
front, establishing it as a solo instrument in the process. He is a seminal
figure in the music because his virtuosity revolutionized the way the bass
was played. On Jazz bass, Ray Brown was The Man. Count Basie called him “The
Listen to Lionel Hampton: “Ray was The Man! He got the biggest and
strongest sound ever on the bass. His sound came directly from the center of
the earth. Like an earthquake.”
The tremors Ray Brown generated continue to rumble throughout the world
of the Jazz bass today. Virtually every modern bass player is a beneficiary
of Ray’s ground-breaking approach to the instrument and is influenced by his
playing in some way. Ray Brown was a First!
To most musicians, critics, and fans Ray Brown was considered the Number One
Jazz bassist in the world over six decades, but he was a lot more than just
a great musician. He also excelled in every aspect of his multi-talented,
multi-faceted career as a composer, arranger, producer, manager, leader,
catalyst, and astute businessman.
There were a lot of “Firsts” in Ray Brown’s career:
Take his First night in New York City in 1945: Upon his arrival, he went
immediately to 52nd Street, the Mecca of Jazz in those days.
There he looked up Hank Jones whom he’d met before and who had heard him
play. Within minutes, Jones introduced Ray to Dizzy Gillespie who invited
him to his home the next day. When he arrived, Ray discovered he was joining
a group composed of Dizzy, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, and Max Roach – all
future Jazz Hall of Famers. Not bad for less than 24 hours in the Big Apple!
As a co-innovator of “Be-Bop”, Ray also helped revolutionize the language of
Listen to Hank Jones: “Mr. Brown was ‘Mr. Bass’, that’s it! When I first
heard him play in 1943 I said to myself, ‘Good God! This man comes from
another planet!’ I had never heard a bass played like that. And he swung so
“One Bass Hit” in 1946, made Ray The First modern bass player to be
featured on a concerto for bass and big band. It was followed the next year
by “Two Bass Hit”.
Also in 1946, he became The First bassist to be the regular leader of his
own trio featuring Hank Jones on piano and either Charlie Smith, Buddy Rich,
or Shelly Manne on drums.
In 1947, he became The First bass player in the Milt Jackson Quartet,
joining John Lewis and Kenny Clarke. (He even recorded their First album
when the group became better known as the Modern Jazz Quartet in 1952.) But
rather than committing to the MJQ permanently, Ray preferred to pursue a
variety of musical contexts.
His First marriage was to Ella Fitzgerald in 1948, and Ray played a key role
in guiding Ella’s career. His sage advice and knowledge of the music
business steered Ella to both Hank Jones and the top manager at the time,
Norman Granz, moves that marked a turning point and helped elevate Ella to
the top level of the music world where she remained for the rest of her
1949 was the First collaboration between Ray Brown and
with whom he performed regularly until 1965. According to the man who
should know, he helped Oscar attain musical heights he might never have
achieved without him.
Listen to Oscar: “If I had never played with Ray, I would have never
reached the level I have. He was ‘The Man’ who did it for me. We were born
to play together.”
That’s only the first five years of this man’s extraordinary career. He
was just getting started.
In 1956, Ray was the First bassist featured as the soloist with a big band
on an entire album. It happened in Los Angeles and the whole session was
composed, arranged, and conducted by Marty Paich expressly for Ray. And it
was another First: An African-American artist featured in front of an
all-white band at a time when studio work in Los Angeles was still out of
bounds for Black musicians. “Sweets” Edison was the lone exception and Ray
insisted on having “Sweets” as a featured player for this date.
In 1963, he wrote the First book on playing the Jazz bass.
Moving to Los Angeles in 1965, he was immediately in great demand by the
studios where his distinctive bass is heard on the scores of countless
movies and television shows. For television, Ray recorded
Schifrin’s iconic “Mannix” and “Mission Impossible” themes, and for
fifteen years was a regular member of the band of “The Merv Griffin Show”,
often sitting-in with “The Tonight Show” orchestra as well.
Ray performs on most of Lalo Schifrin’s film scores, as well as those of
Hank Mancini and Quincy Jones. For Jones’ score of the film classic, “In
Cold Blood”, Quincy had Ray provide the musical voice for both of the film’s
Listen to Quincy: “Ray Brown is on every recording date I ever do --
if I can get him. He’s simply The Best there’s ever been.”
Through the years, Ray always enjoyed playing with fellow bassists like
Milt Hinton, Oscar Pettiford,
John Clayton, NHOP (Niels Pedersen), Christian McBride, Jay Leonhard,
Victor Wooten, Edgar Meyer, Francois Rabbath, and Pierre Boussaguet with
whom he formed a regular group named Two Bass Hit.
Listen to Pierre: “I know how much Ray loved bass players, and he gave me
so much. He continually provoked me gently to reach higher in my playing.
For him, the music was about sharing and emulating.”
Ray even played with classical bass virtuoso, Gary Karr, and was honored
as “King of the Bass” by other “long hairs” like cellists Vladimir
Rostropovich and Yo-Yo Ma, and violinists Itzhak Perlman and Yehudi Menuhin,
But there was a lot more to Ray Brown than just playing the bass…
During the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, he managed the careers of Quincy Jones and
many other great artists.
In 1972, he co-founded the legendary Concord record label with Carl
Jefferson and served as musical director for both the Monterey and Concord
For twenty years, he produced many concerts at the world-famous Hollywood
Bowl as a musical director, manager, and musician.
Showing his concern for the welfare of his fellow musicians, many less
fortunate than he, his displayed his solidarity by testifying for them in a
big court case pitting the musicians’ union against the major studios. The
union won the case.
Ray Brown’s generosity with his time, energy, and wise counsel over the
years helped nurture the careers of many young musicians. He also almost
single-handedly launched and mentored the careers of Phineas Newborn Jr. and
Krall, and his promotion of two European pianists, Dado Moroni and
Jacky Terrason, helped establish them as international stars.
He also showcased young players as members of The Ray Brown Trio -- as with
pianists Gene Harris, Benny Green, Geoff Keezer, and Larry Fuller, and
drummers Jeff Hamilton, Greg Hutchinson, George Fludas, and Karriem Riggins.
Listen to Jeff Hamilton: “Ray was always willing to share his wealth of
experience and knowledge with younger players who were hungry. He always
told John Clayton and me, ‘We’ve got to keep this alive. People showed me.
I’m just trying to pass on that information to those who really want it.’
His intensity, passion for giving 100% EVERY night, and pure joy all came
together when he played.”
Listen to Larry Fuller, his last piano player in his trio: “Having
the opportunity to play with Ray Brown was a childhood musical dream
realized. As a kid growing up, I listened to him on countless legendary
recordings with jazz giants such as Oscar Peterson, Herb Ellis, Monty
Alexander, Clark Terry and so many more. Playing in his trio was one of the
richest musical experiences of my life. Ray Brown was one of a kind. He had
that uncann , intangible, rare ability to pick up the bass and play one or
two notes and you knew it was Ray! Ray Brown was such a complete musician,
and this is why he was the consummate bassist of all time. Ray could sit
down at the the piano and play the most beautiful chord voicings. He had
complete command of the jazz vocabulary. He incorporated into his musical
style, extensive arpeggios across the range of the instrument, along with
the melodic lines of a horn player, while always setting the most infectious
swinging pulse in jazz. Ray Brown changed the way the bass was played in
jazz. His musical genius surpassed and transcended simply being a bassist.
Ray was also a mentor to so many young jazz musicians and was committed to
nurturing their talent by sharing his abundant knowledge of this art form.
As a bandleader he intuitively knew the inherent strengths of his sidemen
and would write and arrange specifically to showcase them. He had a terrific
sense of humor and seemed to intuitively know when to use it to thwart any
tensions in his band, in order to keep the morale of the group conducive to
playing with passion and joy. It was a blessing to play with the great Ray
Ray loved to feature new faces as guest artists with the Trio: musicians
like Swedish guitarist Ulf Wakenius, Australian multi-instrumentalist James
Morrison, tenor Joshua Redmond, trumpeters Terrence Blanchard and Roy
Hargrove, and flutist
Listen to Holly Hofmann: “Playing with Ray’s trio and spending time with
him on the road was an education like no other. He was all about the music
feeling good. I’ve never met a musician who loved to work as much as
Listen to John Clayton: “By example, Ray Brown guided the world to
journey with him down a musical path of swing and fun. His contributions
continue to open minds and hearts and cause people to smile, all the way
down to their souls.”
The 2-CD set you have in your hands represents the complete 1946-1959
sessions recorded by Ray Brown as a leader. It contains many gems.
One is a forgotten track Ray did in a duo with his all-time favorite bassist
Oscar Pettiford at The Lenox School in Massachusetts. With characteristic
class, Oscar plays the cello. Since his passing in 1960, Oscar is not only
considered one of the top geniuses of the bass ever, but is also considered
one of the finest Jazz cellists as well.
One tune, “Slow Down”, never before released, features a trio of Ray, Hank
Jones, and Buddy Rich. Ray’s solo on the track quotes some typical Lester
Four of the tunes in this collection are extremely rare:
“Blue Lou” and “Song of The Volga Boatmen” are both from the 1950 trio
session on Clef Records.
“Base Ball” comes from the 1957 double LP, “The Playboy Jazz All-Star
“Mighty Cool Like Penthouse” is taken from the 1959 3-LP box set, “The
Playboy Jazz All-Stars”.
(About the Playboy LP’s: All the musicians who appear were winners of the
annual Playboy Magazine Jazz Poll. It was the idea of Leonard Feather to
release these LP’s, with the help of other producers like Norman Granz,
George Avakian, and Lester Koenig. The LP’s were superb “Deluxe” editions,
with laminated gatefold picture sleeves and an integral
biography/discography booklet on all the major artists.)
The first edition of this series, “The Playboy Jazz All-Stars Winners”, was
released in 1957. Strangely enough, neither “Base Ball” nor “Mighty Cool
Like Penthouse”, both recorded for Verve Records, have ever been issued
anywhere other than on these Playboy LP’s. To finally find them here on this
CD is an event!
As you will hear, Ray is at his best on all the tracks. His sound in 1946 is
already amazing, but you definitely hear his big sound and full tones in the
trio setting recorded in 1950. At that period, he often quotes from a great
bass-playing “original” of the1930’s famous for playing arco and humming
along simultaneously, Mr. Slam Stewart.
The fantastic composer/arranger Marty Paich’s “Bass Hit” recording is
eloquent testimony to Ray’s ease in front of a big band. While Ray Brown is
“the main man” here, there are also tasty solos by “Sweets” Edison, Jimmy
Giuffre, Herb Ellis, and Herb Geller.
The trio with Herb Ellis and Master drummer Stan Levey on “Base Ball” is so
wonderful, it’s a pity this tune is so short.
Another forgotten great session, “This Is Ray Brown”, provides us with some
very unusual and very interesting configurations and sounds. Jerome
Richardson plays flute the entire session with Oscar Peterson playing the
organ, while Herb Ellis switches to acoustic guitar.
The rarest of finds -- the trio of Ray Brown, Hank Jones, and Ed Thigpen –
provides the finale to this super double-CD set. It’s a mystery why they
only recorded one track and a shame they didn’t record an entire album
As you play this 2-CD set, you will appreciate how extraordinary it is that
one bass player could fit so beautifully into all the various settings,
styles, rhythms, tunes, and combinations of musicians.
Listen, and you will understand why I say: “Ray Brown was The Man!”
Very warm thanks to my friend Albert Stolz (Zurich, Switzerland) and to the
Swiss Jazz Museum, “Jazzorama”, (Uster,
Switzerland) who helped us complete this compilation. Check also the article on
2 with Ray Brown, John Clayton and Christian McBride. -
Ray Brown (double bass player)
Photos © Ted Williams / Ray Brown Collection.
Ray Brown in Santa Fe. Photo © Paul Slaughter. Ray Brown
Recommended recordings by Ray Brown, the jazz double bassist:
Ray Brown on double bass: The Man, 2009. Order the double-CD with the
complete recordings from 1946-1959 from
Ray Brown on double bass: New Two Bass Hits, 1994. With fellow
bassist Pierre Boussaquet and pianist Jacky Terrasson. Order the CD from
Quincy Jones: Smackwater Jack, 1971 (2000). Order the CD from
Amazon.fr. The original recording remastered (2009). Order the CD from
The Holly Hofmann Quartet featuring Ray Brown on bass:
Live at Birdland, 2000. Oder the CD from
Ray Brown: Walk On, Telarc, 2003. Order the double-CD from
The Count Basie Trio: For The First Time, 1991. Oder
the CD from
Duke Ellington and Ray Brown: This One's For Blanton, 1994. Order the
Ray Brown (1926-2002) was the Godfather of “Beethoven” aka Jean-Michel Reisser,
the author of this article. L.G.
Ray Brown. Photos © Chuck Stewart / Ray Brown Collection.