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Wed, 10.13.1926

Ray Brown, Jazz Bassist born

Ray Brown

Ray Brown was born on this date in 1926. He was a Black jazz bassist.

Born in Pittsburgh, Brown started on piano but switched to bass as a member of his high school orchestra. After graduating, he worked in some territory bands before moving to New York in 1945, where he was immediately drawn into the emerging bebop revolution. The 19-year-old bassist was hired without an audition by Dizzy Gillespie's experimental big band, including bebop innovators such as Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, and Max Roach. His bass talents were featured on such sides as “One Bass Hit,” recorded by a sextet led by Gillespie in 1946.

The bassist also appeared with him in the 1946 film “Jivin' in Be-Bop,'' and played with Gillespie on such classic recordings as “Night in Tunisia'' and “Emanon.” In 1947, Brown married vocalist Ella Fitzgerald and later formed his trio to tour with his wife. He became the singer's musical director, and they continued to work together even after their divorce in the early 1950s. During this period, Brown also recorded with Parker and worked with the Milt Jackson Quartet, an early edition of what became the Modern Jazz Quartet.

While touring with producer Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic, Brown played with the Canadian-born Oscar Peterson and became a founding member of the pianist's drum-less trio in 1952. During the decade, Brown was consistently voted top bassist in critics' and readers' polls. He proved the ideal partner for Peterson's swirling, intricate solos. The Peterson-Brown-Ellis lineup stayed intact until 1957, and Brown remained with Peterson until 1966. In 1960, Brown created a stir when he had a hybrid instrument built for him that combined features of the cello and bass. The experiment attracted plenty of interest, and eventually, Ron Carter had a piccolo bass designed along similar lines.  After leaving Peterson, Brown moved to California.

He co-founded the group L. A. Four with saxophonist Bud Shank, Brazilian guitarist Laurindo Almeida, and drummer Shelly Manne. He also appeared regularly on the “Merv Griffin Show.” He recorded the album "Something for Lester” with pianist Cedar Walton and drummer Elvin Jones. Since 1989, Brown has recorded a series of albums for the Telarc label, many of which featured his trio with pianist Benny Green. His most recent recordings included “Live at Starbucks,” “Superbass 2,” and “Some of My Best Friends Are... Guitarists.” Brown lived in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles with his wife, Cecilia.

After a career that spanned over half a century, Ray Brown died in his sleep on July 2, 2002. He was in Indianapolis, finishing an engagement at the Jazz Kitchen after the U. S. portion of a concert tour.

To Become a Musician or Singer


Jazz People
by Harry N. Abrams, Incorporated, New York
Copyright 1976
ISBN 0-8109-1152-3

ASCAP Biographical Dictionary
R. R. Bowker Co., Copyright 1980
ISBN 0-8351-1283-1

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