If only the rest of us could find overlooked valuables tucked away in closets and cabinets as efficiently and nonchalantly as can Ray Bryant. But then, the rest of us don't have Ray Bryant's talent, his worldwide performing schedule or his modesty. Such quiet modesty led Bryant to tuck away the performance tapes that recording engineers have given him over the years until a less-modest Joel Dorn discovered the cache. Since that discovery, a rediscovery of Ray Bryant's prolific career has been undertaken, and rightly so. With workmanlike dedication and personalized talent, somewhat in the same vein as Hank Jones, Bryant's aggressive approach to the piano and his laid-back in-person demeanor combine to establish a style that remains unmatched after almost 50 years.
The latest in what could be called The Ray Bryant Rediscovery Series is North Of The Border, a live performance at Toronto's Montreal Jazz Bistro in 1997. Well-known Canadian jazz radio announcer Ted O'Reilly broadcast the event four years ago, but now the rest of the world can hear it as well.
Recording only when it's personally satisfying, Bryant accepted the gig in Montreal, not as a solo performance like the one on Somewhere In France, but accompanied by his regular back-up musicians Harry Anderson and Winard Harper.
Bryant starts the recording with his well-remembered and always-enjoyed composition "Slow Freight," a brief hit in the 1960's. And yes, Bryant does pick up speed from a rolling start as he adds yet another tune to the jazz repertoire of tunes (most notably Ellington's) dedicated to the sounds of trains. "Django," the next tune, gradually develops from a rubato introduction into the moderate swing made famous by John Lewis and the Modern Jazz Quartet. Instead, though, Bryant emphasizes the classical nature of the tune, as he does in Dizzy Gillespie's "Con Alma." Rather than viewing "Con Alma" initially from a Latin perspective, Bryant delves into its harmonic potential as he substitutes chords to present the tunes more as a German lied than a jazz standard.
Referring to some of his work with Miles Davis, Bryant expressively develops "Nardis" in such a way to emphasize the half-tone resolution at the end of the chorus, not to mention the minor-keyed ominous atmosphere the tune creates. Bryant performs his own approach to ballads as well on "Good Morning Heartache" and "When Sunny Gets Blue," the staggering of the beat and the arpeggiation characteristically his.
Catching Ray Bryant in concert is a rare treat any more; he performs only several times a year. However, the fact that Label M has access to Bryant's lode of cassettes must mean that Bryant's discography will keep growing, whether he enters a studio again or not. Let's hope that it continues to grow.
And let's hope he does future studio recordings as well. There can never be enough of Ray Bryant.
Track Listing: Slow Freight, Django, Li'l Darlin', Good Morning Heartache, Nardis, Moanin', Con Alma, When Sunny Gets Blue, Little Susie
Personnel: Ray Bryant, piano; Harry Anderson, bass; Winard Harper, drums
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.