Musicians offer local tribute to jazz legend
Though jazz great Ray Brown died in 2002, he has hardly faded as a presence in the life of fellow bassist Christian McBride. Brown is in McBride’s thoughts, in his music ” and even makes the occasional appearance in McBride’s bedroom, to deliver unsolicited marital advice.
When McBride proposed to Melissa Walker, he recalls, “the ghost of Ray Brown came and hovered over my bed, shaking his head, saying, ‘Christian, didn’t I tell you not to marry a singer?”
McBride shrugged off that bit of wisdom; he and Walker are to be married this summer. But most every other bit of information, musical and otherwise, imparted by Brown got McBride’s rapt attention.
“He was a great teacher. Ask anyone who ever played in his trio, who was ever in his presence,” said McBride, who participates in Jazz Aspen Snowmass’ Tribute to Ray Brown concert tonight at Harris Hall. “And he taught by example. He wasn’t pointing a finger in your face.”
McBride can’t say that Brown was the cause of his picking up the bass at 8 years old. McBride’s father and uncle both played the instrument. And his first big jazz influence on bass was Ron Carter.
“But [Brown] became my main inspiration. Because Ron Carter is part of the Ray Brown legacy,” McBride said.
When McBride moved to New York in the early ’90s, his knowledge of and appreciation for Brown exploded. He began playing with pianist Benny Green. Green was a disciple of fellow pianist Oscar Peterson; Peterson, in turn, had a long-running association with Brown. In 1992, Green joined Brown’s trio, giving McBride a chance to see Brown close-up and often.
“When I met Benny, I became saturated with Ray Brown’s playing,” said the 32-year-old Philadelphia native from his home in West Orange, N.J. “I listened to it every day, and it took hold of me. I saw how every bass player was influenced by him.”
McBride says that Brown ” who was part of the birth of bebop, playing in the late-’40s quartet led by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie ” changed the sonic parameters of the bass.
“He was an innovator,” McBride said. “He was the first bass player to play long notes. He gave notes their full rhythmic value. The players of his era played gut strings, and their notes came out thudlike. They were more rhythmic than melodic. Ray Brown was able to put both of those together.”
Brown came to see McBride and Green perform at a 1991 gig at New York’s Knickerbocker, McBride’s first meeting with the elder statesman. A year later, Brown invited McBride, then 19, to join him and another bassist, John Clayton, in Super Bass. The group recorded two albums and did a handful of gigs a year throughthe ’90s. When McBride released his first CD, 1995’s “Gettin’ to It,” Brown put in a guest appearance on the tune “Splanky.” On his 1998 album “A Family Affair,” McBride included the original composition “Brown Funk (For Ray)”; in the album’s liner notes, McBride refers to Brown as “Dad.”
McBride may not take all of Brown’s words to heart. But the influence remains strong.
“I think of him literally every day,” said McBride, whose next album, set for release in late summer, is a live recording from the New York club Tonic that features guest appearances by guitarists Charlie Hunter and Eric Krasno and pianist Jason Moran. “He crosses my mind for a few minutes every day.”
Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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