Ray Brown: The Telarc Years
Benny Green: It definitely was one of the most tremendous honors of my life, that Ray cared enough about me to take me under his wing, to just invite me into his musical world, that’s as great a privilege as I’m ever going to know in life. I’m continuing to learn from that experience. It didn’t end with my tenure with the band. Each day that I live and play music, I’m drawing on the inspiration of being around him, and just feeling his joy, his humility...It’s really influenced everything I do, whether I’m playing with bass and drums or playing solo piano, or in a duo situation. So many facets of what Ray represented have touched my whole scope and sensibilities where playing music, and performing, and offering the music to an audience is concerned.
On Ray Brown the musician.
Geoff Keezer: Ray had a very strong concept of the trio. It was rooted in a lot of the big-band that he loved, like Count Basie, some of the sounds of the Oscar Peterson Trio and the Nat Cole Trio, things like that. But he wasn’t the Oscar Peterson Trio, and I didn’t want to sound like that...He gave me free reign to take it as far as I wanted. Which I really appreciated...He never told me what to play. In fact, he gave me clear instructions that he didn’t want me to play like Benny, or Monty, or anyone else that had worked with him. He had a very open mind in that way. Because he held that space open for me, I was really able to develop in a really nice way in the trio.
Elaine Martone: I saw Ray one night in Chicago...the [Bulls] were in the championships so...Ray had to play to about twenty people. But he played with just as much passion and just as much drive to twenty people as to a totally packed house. There was no distinction. He came off, and I felt bad, and I said, ‘I’m sorry the crowd was so bad’ and he said, ‘You know what? You never know who’s in the audience and you never know who you’re going to touch.’ That was just him. He’d been doing this for fifty years!
Russell Malone: Ray Brown had all of [it]. He had sorrow, he had memories all of that. You can hear it in the music. And something else too, man, even the way he addressed the bass. Watching him take the bass out of its case, watching him hold the bass, there was always a sense of purpose to everything he did. When he played that bass—just seeing him hold it—there was a sense of purpose there. It was a very personal thing with him, a very personal connection between him and that instrument.
Benny Green: [T]here are just so many golden moments that I remember where it was just so evident to us on the bandstand—as well as to those in the audience—all at the same time, that this man knew what he was put here to do in life and so enjoyed playing his bass, playing golden notes to support what was going on around him, laying down this time-feel that was like a heartbeat, that everyone could access, whether they were an aficionado, a musician, or someone who’d never even heard this music before. Ray would make converts of everyone in the room. Simply by doing what he loved and taking care of the gift he was given. That’s just so very inspiring for all of us who’ve been around him and it directly informs one’s own sense of direction and responsibility as an artist...Just seeing how the man lived and how he beamed when he was connecting with his instrument.
On Ray Brown the man.
Elaine Martone: He was on the road all the time. He was just an extremely inspired man. He totally loved what he was doing. One time—we were recording a trio album at Sculler’s up in Boston[Note: Live at Scullers with Benny Green and Gregory Hutchinson]—and I was complaining about being on the road and being tired and Ray, who was like twice as old as me, looked at me and said, ‘Elaine, what’s so bad? What did you do today?’ And I answered, ‘Well, I got up. I walked around Harvard square, had some lunch, came back, took a little nap, and now I’m here having dinner with you.’ So he just looks at me and says, ‘Yeah?! And what’s so bad about your life?” I kind of kicked myself in the butt, ‘You know what? What the hell is so bad about my life? What am I, crazy?’