Ray Bryant dies at 79; jazz pianist and composer

Ray Bryant, a pianist and composer whose long career took off after he accompanied a variety of jazz greats during the 1950s at the Blue Note club in Philadelphia, has died. He was 79.

Bryant died June 2 at New York Hospital Queens, a hospital spokeswoman said. No cause was given.

As house pianist at the Blue Note, Bryant played with Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins, among others. “The Blue Note was a real jumping off point for me,” he told the Morning Call of Allentown, Pa., in 1994. Bryant played with a trio that sometimes included his older brother, Tommy, a bassist who died in 1982.

Bryant became “a powerful blues player known for his versatility,” Leonard Feather and Ira Gitler wrote in the Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz.

“I grew up with the blues,” Bryant told The Times in 1995. “I played with some great bluesmen, and it rubbed off on me. No matter what you play you retain some of what you have been around.”

Raphael Homer Bryant was born into a musical family on Dec. 24, 1931, in Philadelphia. His mother played the piano and organ, as does his sister, Vera Eubanks.

“He was kind of the patriarch of the jazz side of our family,” trombonist Robin Eubanks, Bryant’s nephew, told The Times this week. “He was like the mentor, paving the way.”

Eubanks’ brother Kevin, a guitarist, is the former bandleader of “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” and another brother, Duane, is a trumpeter.

After working at the Blue Note, Bryant toured with singer Carmen McRae in 1956-57, played with saxophonist Coleman Hawkins at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1957 and recorded with Dizzy Gillespie.

He moved to New York in the late 1950s and had his first hit in 1960 with his composition “Little Susie.” His composition “Cubano Chant” was recorded by such jazz notables as Art Blakey and Oscar Peterson, and “Changes” was recorded by Davis.

Bryant recorded steadily through the years and toured in Europe and Japan beginning in the 1970s.

His first solo album was 1958’s “Alone With the Blues,” and his most recent release was 2008’s “In the Back Room.”

In addition to his sister, Bryant’s survivors include his wife, Claude; son Raphael Jr.; daughter Gina; grandchildren; and brothers Leonard and Lynwood.