A Salute to Ray Brown’s Extraordinary Career

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Oscar Peterson, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Milt Jackson, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald--those are just six of the jazz giants with whom bassist Ray Brown has performed during a close-to-50-year career that can only be called extraordinary.

Brown will be honored with the Los Angeles Jazz Society’s annual tribute award at the society’s dinner and awards concert, on Sunday at the Biltmore Hotel’s Biltmore Bowl.

Brown established himself as one of jazz’s leading bassists during his time with Peterson, 1951 to 1966, working in duos or trios led by the Canadian pianist. Before that he had intermittent tenures and/or recordings with Parker, Gillespie, Bud Powell and Jazz at the Philharmonic.


“We had the same feeling for the beat,” Brown said recently from Adelaide, Australia, about his days with Peterson. “It’s a great comfort to have that, and you don’t find it with that many people in your whole life. We could play across the street from each other and still be together,” Brown added, chuckling.

When he started his trio in 1980, Brown found that he and pianist Gene Harris were also simpatico, rhythm-wise. The same situation applies now with Benny Green, the 30-year-old piano virtuoso that Brown hired in July, 1992, and who is spotlighted on “Bass Face,” the bassist’s new Telarc Records CD. “Benny’s very flexible,” Brown said. “I can try out anything on him.”

Green and drummer Jeff Hamilton, 40, make up the spry 66- year-old bassist’s threesome, though currently Kenny Washington, 35, is subbing for Hamilton, who is recuperating from a bout of tendinitis. He was asked if he found playing with younger musicians to be an advantage.

“That’s a two-way street,” Brown said. “They stimulate you, but you must also stimulate them, so they can feed off your experience and your knowledge.”

Asked for a highlight of his long career, Brown remembered sitting in with Powell in Paris in the early ‘60s, when the be-bop pianist was but a shadow of his former greatness. “Then on a couple of tunes, it was like a flashback to 20 (years) earlier,” Brown recalled. “For 15-20 minutes, he played his butt off.”

Brown said his career was going great, “considering it ain’t over yet.”

Other recipients of Jazz Society awards Sunday will be Dorothy Donegan, lifetime achievement; Billy Byers, composer-arranger; Woody James, jazz educator; Lorez Alexandria, jazz vocalist; Chuck Niles, jazz communicator; and Linda Martinez, Shelly Manne memorial new talent award. Performances by Brown, Conte Candoli, Gerald Wiggins, John and Jeff Clayton and a host of bassists will highlight the affair.


The event costs $75 for concert and dinner; $25, for concert only. All proceeds go to the nonprofit society’s programs, including the Jazz Caravan, which offers jazz concerts to Los Angeles area elementary schools each February.

Information: (213) 469-6800.

Something Different: The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble makes its Los Angeles debut Monday at Catalina Bar & Grill in Hollywood. In this unusual group there is no chording instrument. The band--Kahil El’Zabar on drums and percussion, Joseph Bowie on trombone and Edward Wilkerson on saxophone--has just released its first album on Chameleon records.

“I wanted to develop an alternative concept using an out-of-the-ordinary instrumentation. We have developed a sound, a blend,” said El’Zabar, who founded the adventurous Chicago-based ensemble 20 years ago. “We all have to handle that bottom, we all have a lot of harmonic and rhythmic responsibilities.”

El’Zabar said that the free-jazz-leaning approach his group espouses “challenges both the intellect and the spirit. There’s no greater blessing than doing the kind of music we do and making a living, and having people appreciate it.”

Critic’s Choices: The quintet of the acclaimed young trumpeter Roy Hargrove, whose melodic statements are imbued with emotion and drama, makes a quick stop Tuesday through Thursday at Catalina Bar & Grill. . . . Latin/jazz violinist Susie Hansen performs perky selections from her debut album, “Solo Flight” on Jazz Caliente Records, tonight at the Sportsmen’s Lodge in Studio City. . . . Strong and eclectic pianist Bill Cunliffe will no doubt explore numbers from his new “A Paul Simon Songbook” (Discovery Records) when he holds forth Sunday at the Jazz Bakery in Culver City.