“A Promise Derailed.” Such of phrase could easily have been etched on Ray Draper’s tombstone to describe the tubaist’s trials in life and music. Killed in a botched robbery at the tragic age of 42 his troubles both personal and musical hounded him for much of his life. But reading the original liners to this reissue penned by Ira Gitler it’s difficult to prognosticate such a future for Draper. Member of the All-City High School Symphony, a budding playwright and composer, and front man of a recording date for Prestige- all of these things point to bright and promising prospects as a musician. A careful inventory of Draper’s sidemen also speaks to his precocious talent. Even back in 57’ McLean and Waldron were heavy hitters and the relative newcomers Young, DeBrest and Dixon are also solid recruits. Taped at Rudy Van G’s original Hackensack studio (his parent’s living room) the fidelity adds even further to the fine proceedings.
The tunes on the date are a well-chosen mix of originals with a single standard thrown in as a nod to tradition. Draper’s potbellied horn is surprisingly agile on the changes, particularly on his own numbers “Jackie’s Dolly” and “Mimi’s Interlude.” Plump and viscous, it’s a sound that skates along the bedrock of the bass register while still managing to fire off quick salvos of notes. Young stays fairly understated, but still chimes in occasionally with fine solos, as on the latter composition and some intriguing exchanges, as on the opening “Terry Anne.” McLean’s devilish alto, brimming with youthful bravado, routinely dances rings around the leader’s fleshy figures. The rhythm section is usually relegated to its regular chores, but Waldron finds space both for a tune and several solo breaks.
Draper recorded several other dates as a leader and parlayed some work as a sideman for employers like McLean, Coltrane and others throughout the remainder of the 50s. The 60s and 70s also afforded him sporadic dates with folks like Archie Shepp and, but the occasional returns to music were always short-lived. Listening in on the promise he so evidently displays here it’s a shame Draper wasn’t able to persevere.