Raphael Homer "Ray" Bryant (December 24, 1931 – June 2, 2011) was an American jazz pianist, composer, and arranger.
Bryant was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on December 24, 1931. His mother was an ordained minister who had taught herself to play the piano; his father also played the piano and sang. His brothers were the bass player Tommy, drummer and singer Len, and Lynwood. Ray began playing the piano around the age of six or seven, following the example of his mother and his sister, Vera. Gospel influences in his playing came from being part of the church at this stage in his early life. He had switched from classical music to jazz by his early teens, and played the double bass at junior high school. He was first paid to play when he was 12: "I would play for dances, and they'd sneak me into bars. I'd get four or five bucks a night, which was good money then." He turned professional aged 14, and immediately joined a local band led by Mickey Collins.
Later life and career
After three years working on and off in Collins's band, Bryant toured with guitarist Tiny Grimes (1948–49). He was then a solo pianist based in Syracuse, New York for a year. After returning to Philadelphia, he played Dixieland in Billy Kretchmer's club for around two years. He attracted more attention after becoming house pianist at the Blue Note club in Philadelphia in 1953. He was there until 1956, accompanying many leading players such as Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Sonny Stitt. Davis and Sonny Rollins both liked Bryant's playing enough to record with him in New York in 1955: on Quintet/Sextet and Work Time, respectively.
These albums were for Prestige Records, for whom Bryant "began a period as an occasional house pianist", also recording with "Art Taylor (1957), Tiny Grimes and Coleman Hawkins (both 1958–9), [...] and as a leader (1957–8)." In this period, he was also the accompanist for singer Carmen McRae (1956–57). Bryant was also a member of trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie's small and big bands for four months in 1957. Bryant recorded under drummer Art Blakey for several studio-based albums in 1957–58. Decades later, he commented: "The sessions I recorded with him helped put me on the map as a musician". Bryant was also part of drummer Jo Jones's trio in 1958. The pianist was able to learn a lot from Jones: "He could sense when you weren't relaxed and would say, 'Take your time and breathe!' He also taught me about pacing a set. I still use his format today", commented Bryant around 2004.
Bryant settled in New York in 1959. There, he played both mainstream jazz and the newer hard bop. His earlier period at the Blue Note in Philadelphia helped him get work, as he already knew a lot of the musicians who were based in New York.
For three months in 1959, Bryant was the pianist in singer Ella Fitzgerald's small band. Bryant recorded with "Hal Singer, Arnett Cobb, Benny Golson, Lem Winchester, and Oliver Nelson" in 1959.
For around ten years from this point, his own trio contained bassists including Tommy Bryant and Jimmie Rowser, and drummers including Walter Perkins, Mickey Roker, Grady Tate, and Freddie Waits. He formed his own trio and was signed by producer and talent scout John Hammond to Columbia Records in 1960. Their first album contained the hit single "Little Susie", a blues created when Bryant was with Jones. Signature Records responded immediately by releasing their own version of Bryant playing the same tune. This version, sold as "Little Susie (Part 4)", reached No. 12 on the Billboard Hot R&B chart.
Hammond also paired Bryant with singer Aretha Franklin for the album Aretha: With The Ray Bryant Combo in 1960. Bryant was in Baltimore with Hammond when the Madison dance craze was developing and, at the producer's suggestion, adapted an earlier composition for the dance – it was renamed "Madison Time". This reached No. 30 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1960. Another Bryant single – "Sack o' Woe" – appeared on the R&B chart in 1961.
In 1963 Bryant switched to Sue Records and recorded the first of four albums for the label. Three years later he was with Cadet Records, "which recorded him in a variety of contexts, from trio to orchestral. The range of material was also varied, mixing jazz standards with pop hits of the day." Despite not having studied arranging formally, Bryant also fulfilled this role for several horn and strings charts for Cadet.
He had another top 100 hit with a cover version of Bobbie Gentry's "Ode to Billie Joe" in 1967. The crossover success that Bryant had irritated some jazz purists, but the pianist maintained that he was unconcerned and had been playing such material in clubs for years before the recordings became commercial successes.
Tommy and Ray Bryant formed a trio, with Oz Perkins as the back-up band, for the off-Broadway run of the comedy show Cambridge Circus, at Square East in 1964. The show starred John Cleese, Bill Oddie, Tim Brooke-Taylor, David Hatch, Jo Kendall, Graham Chapman, Jonathan Lynn, and Jean Hart.
"It was usually in a trio, duo or solo context that Bryant chose to perform and record for the remainder of his career". A performance at the 1972 Montreux Jazz Festival led to Bryant also getting more work as a solo pianist. This was his first trip to Europe and Bryant was nervous about playing to an audience of thousands, but the performance was a success, and was released as the album Alone at Montreux by Atlantic Records. He also toured Europe frequently from the 1970s. He also played electric piano in the 1970s.
Between 1976 and 1980 Bryant recorded five albums for Pablo Records. For the following seven years, he did not record as a leader: "The record companies didn't bother me and I didn't bother them", he later commented. This ended when an admiring producer for Japanese Polygram recruited him: Bryant recorded 10 albums for them (also released on EmArcy) between 1987 and 1995. His 1989 album All Mine and Yours contained only his own compositions, and was recorded while touring Japan.
"In the mid-1990s he recorded in a trio with Ray Brown and Lewis Nash, continued to tour internationally as an unaccompanied soloist, and also went to Japan and Europe in the group 100 Golden Fingers". He played with Benny Golson in New York in 1997.
In the 2000s, most of his performances were in Europe and Japan, and he reduced his schedule. Solo piano recordings from performances at Rutgers University in 2004 and 2008 were released on the CD In the Back Room.
Bryant died on June 2, 2011 at the age of 79 in Queens, New York, after a long illness.
Playing and composing style
Bryant's style was initially influenced by pianists Art Tatum and Teddy Wilson, but blues and gospel elements soon grew stronger in his playing. Bryant was not known as an innovator, but had a readily recognisable style of his own. Bryant said that he liked to transfer elements of the Count Basie Orchestra to the piano. A writer commented that Bryant's "solo works are often like carefully crafted sonatas with dramatic changes in mood, tempo and dynamics".
"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." "In his solo playing, [...] he often played blues figures in the right hand against stride or boogie-woogie patterns in the left. On his recordings as an accompanist the influence of blues and boogie-woogie is less strong and he plays in a variety of styles."
Bryant was also a composer, with well-known themes such as "Cubano Chant", "The Madison Time", "Monkey Business", and "Little Susie" to his credit. He said that he did not consciously endeavor to compose music: "An idea will just come to me while I'm doing something else and if it sticks, I develop it into a tune." His compositions "compositions share many of the attractive melodic and rhythmic qualities that make his playing so widely accessible", and vary in style from Latin, blues-based, to more lyrical ballads, waltzes and calypsos.
|1955||Meet Betty Carter and Ray Bryant||Columbia||Some tracks trio, with Wendell Marshall (bass), Philly Joe Jones (drums); some tracks quartet, with Betty Carter (vocals) added; some tracks quintet, with Jerome Richardson (flute) added|
|1956||Ray Bryant Trio||Epic||Most tracks trio, with Wyatt Ruther (bass), Kenny Clarke, Osie Johnson and Jo Jones (drums; separately); some tracks quartet, with Candido (percussion) added|
|1957||Ray Bryant Trio||Prestige||Trio, with Ike Isaacs (bass), Specs Wright (drums)|
|1958||Alone with the Blues||New Jazz||Solo piano|
|1959||Ray Bryant Plays||Signature||Trio, with Tommy Bryant (bass), Oliver Jackson (drums)|
|1959–60||Little Susie||Columbia||Trio, with Tommy Bryant (bass), Oliver Jackson and Eddie Locke (drums; separately)|
|1960||Madison Time||Columbia||Sextet, with Harry Edison (trumpet), Al Grey, Urbie Green and Benny Morton (trombone; separately), Buddy Tate (tenor sax), Tommy Bryant (bass), Billy English, Jimmy Griffin and Dave Pochonet (drums; separately)|
|1960–61||Con Alma||Columbia||One track solo piano; most tracks trio, with Arthur Harper and Bill Lee (bass; separately), Mickey Roker (drums)|
|1960–61||Dancing the Big Twist||Columbia||Most tracks with Pat Jenkins and Joe Newman (trumpet), Matthew Gee (trombone), Buddy Tate (tenor sax), Jimmy Rowser (bass), Mickey Roker (drums); one track with Don Covay (vocals) added; one track with Harry Edison (trumpet), Ben Richardson (baritone sax), Bill Lee (bass), Gus Johnson (drums), Ray Barretto (congas)|
|1962||Hollywood Jazz Beat||Columbia||With orchestra|
|1963||Groove House||Sue||Most tracks trio, with Tommy Bryant (bass), Bobby Donaldson and Panama Francis (drums; separately); some tracks quartet, with Wally Richardson (guitar) added|
|1964||Live at Basin Street East||Sue||Trio, with Jimmy Rowser (bass), Ben Riley (drums); in concert|
|1964||Cold Turkey||Sue||Trio, with Jimmy Rowser (bass), Ben Riley (drums)|
|1964||Soul||Sue||Most tracks trio, with Tommy Bryant (bass), Sonny Brown and Walter Perkins (drums; separately); some tracks quartet, with Wally Richardson (guitar) added|
|1966||Gotta Travel On||Cadet||Quintet, with Clark Terry (flugelhorn), Snooky Young (trumpet), Walter Booker (bass), Freddie Waits (drums)|
|1966||Lonesome Traveler||Cadet||Quintet, with Clark Terry (flugelhorn, trumpet), Snooky Young (trumpet), Jimmy Rowser (bass), Freddie Waits (drums)|
|1966||Slow Freight||Cadet||Quintet, with Art Farmer and Snooky Young (trumpet, flugelhorn), Richard Davis (bass), Freddie Waits (drums)|
|1967||The Ray Bryant Touch||Cadet||Trio, with Jimmy Rowser (bass), Rudy Collins (drums)|
|1967||Take a Bryant Step||Cadet||With orchestra|
|1968||Up Above the Rocks||Cadet||Quintet, with Dobbie Hiques (trumpet), Snooky Young and Danny Moore (trumpet; separately), Ron Carter (bass), Grady Tate (drums)|
|1969||Sound Ray||Cadet||Trio, with Jimmy Rowser (bass), Harold White (drums)|
|1970||MCMLXX||Atlantic||Some tracks trio, with Chuck Rainey (electric bass), Jimmy Johnson (drums); some tracks with others – Joe Newman (trumpet), Garnett Brown (trombone), George Dorsey (alto sax), King Curtis and Joe Gentle (tenor sax; separately), Leon Cohen (bass clarinet), Pepper Adams (baritone sax), Charles McCracken (cello), Ron Carter (acoustic bass), Emanuel Green, Gene Orloff, Joseph Malignaggi, Julien Barber, Matthew Raimondi, Noel Dacosta, Paul Gershman, Selwart Clarke and Winston Collymore (violin)|
|1972||Alone at Montreux||Atlantic||Solo piano; in concert|
|1974||In the Cut||Cadet||With orchestra: Marvin Stamm and Joe Wilder (trumpet), George Marge (flute, tenor sax, oboe), Alfred Brown, Paul Gershman, Harry Gilckman, Emanuel Green and Max Poliakoff (violin), Julian Barber, Selwart Clarke and Theodore Israel (viola), Margaret Ross (harp), John Tropea (guitar), Richard Davis (bass), Jimmy Johnson (drums), Montego Joe (congas), Charles Stepney (synthesizer)|
|1975?||Hot Turkey||Black & Blue|
|1976||Here's Ray Bryant||Pablo||Trio, with George Duvivier (bass), Grady Tate (drums)|
|1976||Solo Flight||Pablo||Solo piano|
|1976||Montreux '77||Pablo||Solo piano|
|1978||All Blues||Pablo||Trio, with Sam Jones (bass), Grady Tate (drums)|
|1980||Potpourri||Pablo||Trio, with Jimmy Rowser (bass), Mickey Roker (drums)|
|1987||Ray Bryant Today||EmArcy||Trio, with Rufus Reid (bass), Freddie Waits (drums)|
|1987||Plays Basie & Ellington||EmArcy||Trio, with Rufus Reid (bass), Freddie Waits (drums)|
|1987–88||Blue Moods||EmArcy||Some tracks solo piano; most tracks trio, with Rufus Reid (bass), Freddie Waits (drums)|
|1988||Golden Earrings||EmArcy||Trio, with Rufus Reid (bass), Freddie Waits (drums)|
|1989||All Mine... And Yours||EmArcy||Trio, with Rufus Reid (bass), Winard Harper (drums)|
|1991||Ray Bryant Plays Blues and Ballads||Jazz Connaisseur||Solo piano|
|1992||Through the Years Volume 1||EmArcy||One track solo piano; most tracks trio, with Rufus Reid (bass), Grady Tate (drums)|
|1992||Through the Years Volume 2||EmArcy||Trio, with Rufus Reid (bass), Grady Tate (drums)|
|1993||Somewhere in France||Label M||Solo piano; in concert|
|1994||No Problem||EmArcy||Quartet, with Kenny Burrell (guitar), Peter Washington (bass), Kenny Washington (drums)|
|1994||Inimitable||Jazz Connaisseur||Solo piano|
|1994||Ray Bryant Meets Ray Brown + 1 Double RB||EmArcy||Trio, with Ray Brown (bass), Lewis Nash (drums)|
|1995||Solo Live in Tokyo – Plays Blues and Boogie||EmArcy||Solo piano; in concert|
|1997||North of the Border||Label M||Trio, with Harry Anderson (bass), Winard Harper (drums)|
|1997||Ray's Tribute to His Jazz Piano Friends||JVC||Trio, with Ray Drummond (bass), Winard Harper (drums)|
|2004–08||In the Back Room||Evening Star||Solo piano; in concert|
|1955||Miles Davis||Quintet / Sextet||Prestige|
|1955||Toots Thielemans||The Sound||Columbia|
|1955||Sonny Rollins||Work Time||Prestige|
|1956||Joe Carroll||Joe Carroll||Epic|
|1956||Max Roach||Max Roach + 4||EmArcy|
|1956–57||Max Roach||Jazz in ¾ Time||EmArcy|
|1957||Art Blakey||Drum Suite||Columbia|
|1957||Art Blakey||Orgy in Rhythm, Volume 1||Blue Note|
|1957||Art Blakey||Orgy in Rhythm, Volume 2||Blue Note|
|1957||Art Taylor||Taylor's Wailers||Prestige|
|1957||Carmen McRae||After Glow||Decca|
|1957||Carmen McRae||Mad About the Man||Decca|
|1957||Clifford Jordan||Cliff Jordan||Blue Note|
|1957||Coleman Hawkins||The Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge, Pete Brown, Jo Jones All Stars at Newport||Verve|
|1957||Dizzy Gillespie||The Greatest Trumpet of Them All||Verve|
|1957||Dizzy Gillespie with Sonny Rollins, Sonny Stitt||Sonny Side Up||Verve|
|1957||Lee Morgan||City Lights||Blue Note|
|1958?||Mae Barnes||Mae Barnes||Vanguard|
|1958||Various||Another Monday Night at Birdland||Roulette|
|1958||Various||Monday Night at Birdland||Roulette|
|1958||Aaron Bell||Music From "Peter Gunn"||Lion|
|1958||Art Blakey||Holiday for Skins, Volume 1''||Blue Note|
|1958||Art Blakey||Holiday for Skins, Volume 2''||Blue Note|
|1958||Benny Golson||Benny Golson and the Philadelphians||United Artists|
|1958||Benny Golson||Groovin' with Golson||New Jazz|
|1958||Budd Johnson||Blues a la Mode||Felsted|
|1958||Jerry Valentine||Outskirts of Town||Prestige|
|1958||Jo Jones||Jo Jones Plus Two||Vanguard|
|1958||Tiny Grimes||Blues Groove||Prestige|
|1958||Tiny Grimes||Callin' the Blues||Prestige|
|1958||Melba Liston||Melba Liston and Her 'Bones||MetroJazz|
|1958–59||Charlie Shavers||Charlie Digs Dixie||MGM|
|1958–59||Charlie Shavers||Charlie Digs Paree||MGM|
|1959||Arnett Cobb||Party Time||Prestige|
|1959||Benny Golson||Gone with Golson||New Jazz|
|1959||Coleman Hawkins||Hawk Eyes||Prestige|
|1959||Max Roach||Moon Faced and Starry Eyed||Mercury|
|1959||Oliver Nelson||Meet Oliver Nelson||Prestige|
|1959||Tiny Grimes||Tiny in Swingville||Swingville|
|1960?||Jimmy Rushing||Rushing Lullabies||Columbia|
|1960||Charlie Shavers||Here Comes Charlie|
|1960||Charlie Shavers||Like Charlie||Everest|
|1960–61||Aretha Franklin||Aretha: With The Ray Bryant Combo||Columbia|
|1963||Clark Terry||Tread Ye Lightly||Cameo|
|1965||Sonny Rollins||Sonny Rollins on Impulse!||Impulse!|
|1971||Yusef Lateef||The Gentle Giant||Atlantic|
|1972||Yusef Lateef||Hush 'N' Thunder||Atlantic|
|1973||Yusef Lateef||Part of the Search||Atlantic|
|1976?||Zoot Sims||Soprano Sax|
|1976||Al Grey||Struttin' and Shoutin'||Columbia|
|1977?||Jo Jones||The Essential Jo Jones||Vanguard|
|1978||Arnett Cobb||Live at Sandy's!||Muse|
|1978||Buddy Tate||Hard Blowin'||Muse|
|1978||Buddy Tate||Live at Sandy's||Muse|
|1979?||Various||Tribute to Louis Armstrong||Schweizerischer Bankverein|