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Ray Bryant, Jazz Pianist, Dies at 79


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June 3, 2011

Ray Bryant, Jazz Pianist, Dies at 79

By NATE CHINEN

 

Ray Bryant, a jazz pianist whose sensitivity and easy authority made him a busy accompanist and a successful solo artist, beginning in the mid-1950s, died on Thursday. He was 79.

 

His wife of 20 years, Claude Bryant, said he died at New York Hospital Queens after a long illness. He lived in Jackson Heights, Queens.

 

Mr. Bryant had a firm touch and an unshakable sense of time, notably in his left hand, which he often used to build a bedrock vamp. Even in a bebop setting, he favored the ringing tonalities of the gospel church. And he was sumptuously at home with the blues, as a style and a sensibility but never as an affectation.

 

All of this contributed to his accomplishment as a solo pianist. His first solo piano album was Alone With the Blues, in 1958, and he went on to make a handful of others, including Alone at Montreux, Solo Flight and Montreux 77. His most recent release, In the Back Room, was yet another solo album, recorded live at Rutgers University and released on the Evening Star label in 2008.

 

Raphael Homer Bryant was born on Dec. 24, 1931, in Philadelphia, and made his name in that city during its considerable postwar jazz boom. Along with his brother, Tommy, a bassist, he played in the house band at the Blue Note Club in Philadelphia, which had a steady flow of major talent dropping in from New York. (Charlie Parker and Miles Davis were among the musicians they played with there.) In short order Mr. Bryant had plenty of prominent sideman work, both with and without his brother.

 

One early measure of his ascent was the album Meet Betty Carter and Ray Bryant, released on Columbia in 1955. It was a splashy introduction for him as well as for Ms. Carter, the imposingly gifted jazz singer. It was soon followed by The Ray Bryant Trio (Prestige), an accomplished album that introduced Mr. Bryants composition Blues Changes, with its distinctive chord progression.

 

That song would become a staple of the jazz literature, if less of a proven standard than Cubano Chant, the sprightly Afro-Cuban fanfare that Mr. Bryant recorded under his own name and in bands led by the drummers Art Blakey, Art Taylor and Jo Jones.

 

Mr. Bryant had several hit songs early in his solo career, beginning with Little Susie, an original blues that he recorded both for the Signature label and for Columbia. In 1960 he reached No. 30 on the Billboard chart with a novelty song called The Madison Time, rushed into production to capitalize on a dance craze. (The song has had a durable afterlife, appearing on the soundtrack to the 1988 movie Hairspray, and in the recent Broadway musical production.) He later broke into the Top 100 with a cover of Bobbie Gentrys Ode to Billie Joe, released just a few months after the original, in 1967.

 

But Mr. Bryants legacy never rested on his chart success or his nimble response to popular trends. It can be discerned throughout his own discography and in some of his work as a sideman, notably with the singers Carmen McRae and Jimmy Rushing, and on albums like Dizzy Gillespies Sonny Side Up, on Verve. After Hours, a track on that album, begins with Mr. Bryant and his brother playing a textbook slow-drag blues.

 

Along with his wife, Mr. Bryant is survived by a son, Raphael Bryant Jr.; a daughter, Gina; three grandchildren; and two brothers, Leonard and Lynwood. Mr. Bryants sister, Vera Eubanks, is the mother of several prominent jazz musicians: Robin Eubanks, a trombonist; Kevin Eubanks, the guitarist and former bandleader on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno; and Duane Eubanks, a trumpeter.

 Find 675 of my jazz piano arrangements of standards for educational purposes and tutorials at www.Patreon.com/HarryLikas Harry was the Technical Editor of Mark Levine's "The Jazz Theory Book" and helped develop "The Jazz Piano Book."

 

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Ray Bryant had a huge effect on me as a kid. "Little Suzie", and that trio record with "Django" on it :cool:

 

Though I didn't grow up to play jazz, his playing absolutely affected the way I play everything I do.

 

 

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Yeah ....."Cubano Chant" with Art Blakey. Serious stuff. And I loved "The MADISON TIME" also.

 

One of the those soulful but under rated guys... like Kenny Drew , Carl Perkins, Hampton Hawes even.

 

I don't know what happened to him in the last 30 years or so though. I thought he was great.

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Django:

(FIXED)

 

Little Suzie:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ar9tKSlyg4o

 

Cubano Chant:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WXw24OE34o

 

 

 

 Find 675 of my jazz piano arrangements of standards for educational purposes and tutorials at www.Patreon.com/HarryLikas Harry was the Technical Editor of Mark Levine's "The Jazz Theory Book" and helped develop "The Jazz Piano Book."

 

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RIP, Ray Bryant. Hadn't heard his name in years. Such a solid and natural player.

 

Somehow I never heard him play Django before. My all time favorite version of that great John Lewis song was on Gunther Schuller's rare record, "Jazz Abstractions".

 

So thanks for the link. Ray's strong playing does it justice.

 

 

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Sorry, fixed the Django link

 Find 675 of my jazz piano arrangements of standards for educational purposes and tutorials at www.Patreon.com/HarryLikas Harry was the Technical Editor of Mark Levine's "The Jazz Theory Book" and helped develop "The Jazz Piano Book."

 

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Aw, man... I love his playing. One of my favorites. RIP. I do Cubano Chant with my Quartet.

 

I spent a lot of time listening to that record with Betty Carter, when I was dating (and working with) a singer in NYC.

 

His funky gospel vibe appeals to me more than the standard Charlie Parker licks that seem to get passed around most of the time. I think he was underrated.

 

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RIP, Brother Ray.

 

I first heard of him from an Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers album and then hunted down more of his stuff.

 

His funky gospel vibe appeals to me more than the standard Charlie Parker licks that seem to get passed around most of the time. I think he was underrated.

+100 Well said! Its playing like his, Bobby Timmons', and James Williams' that I most aspire to in jazz.

Instrumentation is meaningless - a song either stands on its own merit, or it requires bells and whistles to cover its lack of adequacy, much less quality. - kanker
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To me, Les McCann, Ramsey Lewis, Gene Harris, Monty Alexander all sound influenced by Ray Bryant.

 Find 675 of my jazz piano arrangements of standards for educational purposes and tutorials at www.Patreon.com/HarryLikas Harry was the Technical Editor of Mark Levine's "The Jazz Theory Book" and helped develop "The Jazz Piano Book."

 

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Phil Schaap is doing Ray Bryant memorial broadcast ( today, Monday) on WKCR FM in New York, accesible from www.wkcr.org by clicking on the Mp3 stream.

 

Phil seems to have every recording that Ray did! Most of this I have NOT heard, but he is featuring many recordings where Bryant appeared as a sideman. Important stuff.

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I really enjoyed him, picked up a cd of his on recommendation and glad I did. He swung very hard, nice player . .

 

 CP-50, YC 73,  FP-80, PX5-S, NE-5d61, Kurzweil SP6, XK-3, CX-3, Hammond XK-3, Yamaha YUX Upright, '66 B3/Leslie 145/122

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