Ray Brown Jr
How do you forge your own musical destiny when your mother is Ella Fitzgerald, dubbed the “first lady of song,” and your father is Ray Brown, one of jazz’s pre-eminent bassists for over half a century? If you’re Ray Brown Jr. you take the legacy God gave you and run with it. It’s not easy following in the footsteps of famous parents, especially when you enter “their territory”, but Ray has demonstrated that he’s his own man in a classy, almost understated way. With his new SRI Jazz recording, “Friends And Family,” Ray proves to be a more than worthy standard-bearer for the royal legacy his name evokes. Though he grew up inundated with jazz, he didn’t automatically fall under its sway, opting instead to indulge his passion for rock and rhythm and blues. His mom was arguably the finest female jazz singer of all time while his father played with Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell and Oscar Peterson. But Ray was moved more by the infectious rhythms of Little Richard and Bo Diddley and the awe-inspiring vocals of Jackie Wilson, James Brown and Sam Cooke.
Ray grew up in New York City before moving to California with his family. By age ten he was studying piano and four years later began a life-long love affair with the drums. Ray Sr. arranged for his son to study with respected veteran, Bill Douglass (Benny Goodman, Ben Webster, Charles Mingus, Chico Hamilton) and later with Los Angeles icon, Chuck Flores (Woody Herman, Art Pepper, Maynard Ferguson). His chops developed quickly and Ray soon made the transition from being a popular singer/drummer at private parties to the challenging world of live club gigs.
He attended Beverly Hills High School and lent his versatile voice to the Mini-singers and Madrigals, who gained widespread attention performing at local area music festivals and hospitals. Upon migrating north to Seattle, Ray continued to forge a reputation as a must-see nightclub performer and began finding himself as a writer and composer. He put the long hours he spent commuting between gigs to good use as he developed his skills. He also began studying with respected drummer, Bill Coleman, Sr. and the relationship had a nurturing creative impact on Ray. “Writing music has always been a wonderful outlet for me and I really got the chance to work on my craft while I was out on the road. A new world unfolded for me and I loved it,” he recalls.
Ray’s “road warrior” mentality sprang from watching his folks practicing their own fierce work ethic throughout a seemingly endless series of tours, recording dates and film, television and radio appearances. He applied that drive to his unbridled desire to perform—with various bands and as a solo act. He hit the concert trail with relentless abandon, playing throughout the Pacific Northwest and, after hooking up with the United States Department of Defense, he journeyed to such exotic locales as Japan, Korea, Guam, Canada and Alaska. He’s appeared across the U.S. at numerous prestigious clubs including an extended five-night-a-week engagement at Le Bistro Theatre at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas. Reflecting on his travels, Ray notes, “I love to tour. I’ve been able to see a lot of the world and I absolutely enjoyed being… with different types of people, different cultures…It’s broadened who I am as a person…”
Ray’s three previous projects have earned considerable critical and consumer praise. His first two SRI Jazz albums, “Slow Down For Love” (2001) and “Committed From The Heart” (2003) showcased both his sophisticated, compelling vocals and his original material and arrangements. 2007’s “Stand By Me” was crafted as a showcase for some of his favorite jazz standards mixed with a few jazz arrangements of rock classics such as “Oh Pretty Woman.” “Friends And Family” begins a new chapter in Ray’s extraordinary career. Though most people expect him to offer music compatible with his background and upbringing, Ray isn’t hesitant to express his real preferences. “Because of my roots,” he explains, “people always assume I sing and play jazz. That’s the first thing they ask when they meet me. They’re surprised when I sing rock and roll or country because they don’t expect it. I’m really fortunate that I enjoy all types of music. I’d never restrict myself to just one genre because that would be self-limiting. I’ve been blessed with a versatile voice and I intend to use it in all the styles I like.”