Ray Bryant

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Ray Bryant
Raphael Homer Bryant.jpg
Background information
Birth nameRaphael Homer Bryant
BornDecember 24, 1931
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
DiedJune 2, 2011(2011-06-02) (aged 79)
New York City, U.S.
Occupation(s)Musician, composer, arranger
Years active1940s–2000s
LabelsColumbia, Sue, Cadet, Pablo, EmArcy

Raphael Homer "Ray" Bryant (December 24, 1931 – June 2, 2011) was an American jazz pianist, composer, and arranger.

Early life[edit]

Bryant was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on December 24, 1931.[1] His mother was an ordained minister who had taught herself to play the piano; his father also played the piano and sang.[2] His brothers were the bass player Tommy, drummer and singer Len, and Lynwood.[3] Ray began playing the piano around the age of six or seven, following the example of his mother and his sister, Vera.[1][3] Gospel influences in his playing came from being part of the church at this stage in his early life.[4] He had switched from classical music to jazz by his early teens and played the double bass at junior high school.[3] 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."[2] He turned professional aged 14, and immediately joined a local band led by Mickey Collins.[4]

Later life and career[edit]


After three years working on and off in Collins's band,[4] Bryant toured with guitarist Tiny Grimes (1948–49).[5] He was then a solo pianist based in Syracuse, New York for a year.[3] After returning to Philadelphia, he played Dixieland in Billy Kretchmer's club for around two years.[4] He attracted more attention after becoming house pianist at the Blue Note club in Philadelphia in 1953.[3] He was there until 1956, accompanying many leading players such as Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Sonny Stitt.[5] 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.[2]

These albums were for Prestige Records,[2] 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)."[1] In this period, he was also the accompanist for singer Carmen McRae (1956–57).[6] Bryant was a member of trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie's small and big bands for four months in 1957.[7] Bryant recorded under drummer Art Blakey for several studio albums in 1957–58.[8] Decades later, he commented: "The sessions I recorded with him helped put me on the map as a musician".[9] Bryant was also part of drummer Jo Jones's trio in 1958.[6] The pianist was able to learn 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.[2]


Bryant settled in New York in 1959.[1] There, he played both mainstream jazz and the newer hard bop.[1] 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.[4]

For three months in 1959, Bryant was the pianist in singer Ella Fitzgerald's small band.[10] Bryant recorded with "Hal Singer, Arnett Cobb, Benny Golson, Lem Winchester, and Oliver Nelson" in 1959.[1]

For around ten years from this point, his own trio contained bassists including Tommy Bryant and Jimmy Rowser, and drummers including Walter Perkins, Mickey Roker, Grady Tate, and Freddie Waits.[1] He formed his own trio and was signed by producer and talent scout John Hammond to Columbia Records in 1960.[2] Their first album contained the hit single "Little Susie", a blues created when Bryant was with Jones.[2] Signature Records responded immediately by releasing their own version of Bryant playing the same tune.[11] This version, sold as "Little Susie (Part 4)", reached No. 12 on the Billboard Hot R&B chart.[12]

Hammond also paired Bryant with singer Aretha Franklin for the album Aretha: With The Ray Bryant Combo in 1960.[13] 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".[2] This reached No. 30 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1960.[14][15] Another Bryant single – "Sack o' Woe" – appeared on the R&B chart in 1961.[16]

In 1963, Bryant switched to Sue Records and recorded the first of four albums for the label.[2] 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."[2] Despite not having studied arranging formally, Bryant also fulfilled this role for several horn and strings charts for Cadet.[2]

He had another top 100 hit with a cover version of Bobbie Gentry's "Ode to Billie Joe" in 1967.[14] 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 commercially successful.[2]

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".[3] A performance at the 1972 Montreux Jazz Festival led to Bryant also getting more work as a solo pianist.[1] 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.[2] He also toured Europe frequently from the 1970s.[1] He also played electric piano in the 1970s.[6]

In 1982, he was the guest on Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz radio program.[17] In the following year, he played in New York in a trio led by saxophonist Buddy Tate.[18]

Between 1976 and 1980, Bryant recorded five albums for Pablo Records.[2] 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.[2] 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.[2] His 1989 album All Mine and Yours contained only his own compositions, and was recorded while touring Japan.[1]

In the mid-1990s he recorded with Ray Brown and Lewis Nash as a trio, toured internationally as an unaccompanied soloist, and visited Japan and Europe in the group 100 Golden Fingers".[1] He played with Benny Golson in New York in 1997.[19]

In the 2000s, most of his performances were in Europe and Japan, and he reduced his schedule.[2] Solo piano recordings from performances at Rutgers University in 2004 and 2008 were released on the CD In the Back Room.[20]

Bryant died on June 2, 2011, at the age of 79 in Queens, New York, after a long illness.[6][14]


From 1975 to 1982, he was married to pioneering Philadelphia news broadcaster Edie Huggins. The musicians Kevin Eubanks, Duane Eubanks, and Robin Eubanks are the sons of Bryant's sister, Vera.[3]

Playing and composing style[edit]

Bryant's style was initially influenced by pianists Art Tatum and Teddy Wilson, but blues and gospel elements soon grew stronger in his playing.[3] Bryant was not known as an innovator, but had a readily recognisable style of his own.[2] Bryant said that he liked to transfer elements of the Count Basie Orchestra to the piano.[2] A writer commented that Bryant's "solo works are often like carefully crafted sonatas with dramatic changes in mood, tempo and dynamics".[2]

"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."[14] "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."[1]

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."[2] Ed Berger wrote in JazzTimes that his 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.[2]


As leader[edit]

Year recorded Title Label Personnel/Notes
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 Rock 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 4 tracks solo piano; 3 tracks trio, with Major Holley (bass), Panama Francis (drums)
1976 Here's Ray Bryant Pablo Trio, with George Duvivier (bass), Grady Tate (drums)
1976 Solo Flight Pablo Solo piano
1977 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 Trio 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, Vol. 1 EmArcy One track solo piano; most tracks trio, with Rufus Reid (bass), Grady Tate (drums)
1992 Through the Years, Vol. 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 R B 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 JMI Jazz/JVC Trio, with Ray Drummond (bass), Winard Harper (drums)
1999 Plays the Blues M & I (Japan) Trio, with Ray Drummond (bass), Kenny Washington (drums)
2004–08 In the Back Room Evening Star Solo piano; in concert

As sideman[edit]

Year recorded Leader Title Label
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 Duets 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 Aaron Bell Music From "Peter Gunn" Lion/MGM
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 Coleman Hawkins Soul Prestige
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 Hank Mobley, Curtis Fuller, Lee Morgan and Billy Root Monday Night at Birdland Roulette
1958 Hank Mobley, Curtis Fuller, Lee Morgan and Billy Root Another Monday Night at Birdland Roulette
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 Hal Singer with Charlie Shavers Blue Stompin' Prestige
1959 Arnett Cobb Party Time Prestige
1959 Jo Jones Jo Jones Trio Everest
1959 Benny Golson Gone with Golson New Jazz
1959 Coleman Hawkins Hawk Eyes Prestige
1959 Jerry Valentine Stasch Swingville
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 Pablo
1976 Al Grey Struttin' and Shoutin' Columbia
1976 Benny Carter Wonderland Pablo
1977 Benny Carter Benny Carter 4: Montreux '77 Pablo Live
1978 Arnett Cobb Live at Sandy's! Muse
1978 Buddy Tate Hard Blowin' Muse
1978 Buddy Tate Live at Sandy's Muse
1978 Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson Live at Sandy's Muse
1978 Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson Hold It Right There! Muse
1979? Various Tribute to Louis Armstrong Schweizerischer Bankverein


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Larson, Steve; Kernfeld, Barry (2003). Bryant, Ray [Raphael Homer]. oxfordmusiconline. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.J064900. ISBN 978-1-56159-263-0. Retrieved February 17, 2018 – via Grove Music Online.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v Berger, Ed (January 1, 2005). "Ray Bryant: Through the Years". JazzTimes. Retrieved February 17, 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Vacher, Peter (June 8, 2011). "Ray Bryant Obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved February 17, 2018.
  4. ^ a b c d e Hentoff, Nat (March–April 1960). "Introducing Ray Bryant". The Jazz Review. Vol. 3, no. 3. pp. 18–19.
  5. ^ a b Feather, Leonard, and Ira Gitler (2007). The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz. Oxford University Press.
  6. ^ a b c d Yanow, Scott, Ray Bryant biography, AllMusic.
  7. ^ Shypton, Alyn (2001). Groovin' High. Oxford University Press. pp. 271–272.
  8. ^ "Art Blakey Catalog". jazzdisco.org. Retrieved February 18, 2018.
  9. ^ Watrous, Peter (October 24, 1990). "Memorial Service for Art Blakey With Jokes, Memories and Jazz". The New York Times. Retrieved February 18, 2018.
  10. ^ Nicholson, Stuart (2014). Ella Fitzgerald : A Biography of the First Lady of Jazz (Updated ed.). Taylor and Francis. p. 186.
  11. ^ "Hammond Puts Charge into Col. Disk Stint". Billboard. January 25, 1960. p. 4.
  12. ^ "The Billboard Hot R&B Sides". Billboard. April 18, 1960. p. 48.
  13. ^ Cohen, Aaron (June 2011). "The Queen's Credentials". DownBeat. p. 71.
  14. ^ a b c d Chinen, Nate (June 3, 2011). "Ray Bryant, Jazz Pianist, Dies at 79". The New York Times. Retrieved November 6, 2015.
  15. ^ "The Billboard Hot 100". Billboard. May 23, 1960. p. 34.
  16. ^ "Billboard Music Week Hot R&B Sides". Billboard. April 3, 1961. p. 36.
  17. ^ Jackson, Grant (August 5, 2011). "Ray Bryant on Piano Jazz". npr.org. NPR. Retrieved February 18, 2018.
  18. ^ Pareles, Jon (July 28, 1983). "Jazz Trio: Tate, Bryant and Duvivier". The New York Times. Retrieved February 18, 2018.
  19. ^ Watrous, Peter (April 3, 1997). "Muscling Through Melodies". The New York Times. Retrieved February 18, 2018.
  20. ^ Joyce, Mike (April 1, 2009). "Ray Bryant: In the Back Room". JazzTimes. Retrieved February 18, 2018.

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