Thursday, June 23, 2011

Ray Brown: “The Will to Swing”

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Has anyone ever had a more illustrious career in Jazz than Raymond Matthews Brown?

By the time of his passing in 2002, it seems that Ray Brown had worked with anyone and everyone of significance during the Jazz scene of the second half of the Twentieth [20th] Century.

The list of Ray’s musical associates is as impressive as it is unending, beginning with an offer to join Dizzy Gillespie’s big band in 1945 on the very first day that he arrived in New York City from his native Pittsburgh!

Over the years, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles met Ray on a number of occasions.  It was almost impossible not to as he was everywhere on the Hollywood musical scene: in the studios, at clubs and in concerts.  You couldn’t miss him if you tried.

We never met anyone who enjoyed playing Jazz more than Ray Brown.

We once remarked to him that he reminded us of Ernie Banks, the outstanding shortstop who played for the Chicago Cubs baseball team from 1953-1971.  Ernie loved the game so much that he often said: “It’s a great day for a ball game, let’s play two!”

Upon hearing this analogy, Ray just smiled, giggled and nodded in agreement.

The giggle and the smile were as infectious as his enthusiasm for all things Jazz.

We were reminded of Ray recently when we read the following description of him as recounted by pianist Oscar Peterson to Gene Lees in the insert notes to Oscar double CD – The Will to Swing [Verve 047 703 2]:

“Although he would record in many formats; with a string section, with a big band, as a soloist, and as a sideman in dates featuring various of the great soloists contracted to the Granz labels; Peterson did most of his work in a trio format. But his first American recordings were in a duo with Ray Brown, who would become as close to him as a brother.

Oscar has described Ray as ‘the epitome of forethought. Sympathetic forethought,’ He said. ‘His talent is almost ethereal... He is a walking sound. Ray has a sound that he walks around with that he can't even describe . . . The fact of having the instrument under his hands makes him approach it that way. There are very few people like that. I think Dizzy's like that with a horn.’

‘And the other thing that Ray has is an innate mechanism, something within himself, that will adjust him to any situation; and consequently he will adjust that situation to what he thinks it should be. Ray has that mechanism within him, like a tuning fork, that keeps him straight.’

‘I think the reason I worked with Ray and can still work with Ray is that I challenge him. I challenged him at every level, just as he's challenged me. I tried to stay on top of Ray, and he'd say, “Go ahead. You press all you want. I'm gonna be there.” And that was a good feeling between us.’

Peterson and Brown stayed together without interruption for fourteen years — longer, as Ray put it, ‘than most cats stay with their wives.’”

The following video provides a sampling of Ray’s powerful bass work. As one of the seminal bass players in Jazz once described to Gene Lees: “My heart is in that sound.”

Joining him on this trio version of Irving Berlin’s Remember are pianist Benny Green and drummer Jeff Hamilton.  The track is from Ray’s BassFace Telarc CD [CD-83340].