Bassist Ray Brown Dies


Bassist Ray Brown, one of the most important musicians in jazz, lending his impeccable support to the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson and Ella Fitzgerald, died Tuesday. He was 75.

Brown died in his sleep in Indianapolis. He was in town for a show at the club the Jazz Kitchen, and according to reports, Brown played golf earlier Tuesday and went to take an afternoon nap. When he did not show up for the evening performance, a bandmate went to his hotel room, where his body was found.

Along with men like Jimmy Blanton, Oscar Pettiford and Charles Mingus, bassist Ray Brown must be considered among the modern giants of his instrument. When he began working with Dizzy Gillespie’s big band circa 1945-‘47, Brown helped open the way for the bebop movement’s more progressive shift away from swing-era rhythm patterns.

A Pittsburgh native born Oct. 13, 1926, Brown studied piano at the age of 8 then started playing bass by ear in his teens. He was working with local bands before joining Snookum Russell’s band, then Gillespie at age 20, also working with most of the other bebop greats. He would have been the original bassist in the Modern Jazz Quartet but was already making more money touring with Ella Fitzgerald. Brown toured with the trio backing Fitzgerald from 1947-51 (and was married to the singer from 1948-‘52), then began a 15-year tenure with Oscar Peterson, which ended with Brown taking up residence in Los Angeles. Brown also performed with singers such as Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Billy Eckstine, Sarah Vaughan and Peggy Lee.

He became a personal manager while continuing to perform and record. And he was involved with the Hollywood Bowl Association in jazz concert production, directed the Monterey Jazz Festival for two years and was the music director of the Concord Summer Festival for two years. Since his co-founding role in the L.A. 4 (with Bud Shank, Laurindo Almeida and Shelly Manne) in the mid-‘70s, Brown co-led a quartet with Milt Jackson.

For the past couple of decades, Brown worked with his own trios, mostly in the company of pianists such as Monty Alexander, Gene Harris, Benny Green and Geoff Keezer, recording for the Concord and Telarc labels.

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