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Ray Brown was a Grammy Award-winning double-bassist who played a leading role in defining the modern jazz rhythm.
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Best known as a contributing member of the bebop jazz movement and a member of the Oscar Peterson Trio, jazz bassist Ray Brown performed with jazz giants from Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker to his wife Ella Fitzgerald. Despite Fitzgerald's short-lived marriage to Brown (1947-1953), she remained a lifelong friend and musical associate.
A disciple of the 1940s Oscar Pettiford school of jazz bass, Brown developed an individual style renown for its tastefully executed rhythmic lines within the context of ensemble accompaniment. His talent reflects such breadth and diversity that he was the most cited musician in the first edition of the Penguin Guide to Recorded Jazz (1992). Unlike many of the founders of bebop bass, Brown performed and earned a successful living as a studio musician, record producer, and nightclub owner.
Raymond Matthews Brown was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on October 13, 1926. He took piano lessons at age eight and gained knowledge of the keyboard through memorizing the recordings of Fats Waller. A member of the high school orchestra, he soon found himself overwhelmed by the number of pianists among his classmates. "There must have been 14 piano players in it. And 12 of them were chicks who could read anything on sight," explained Brown in Jazz Masters of the Forties. In the book Oscar Peterson: The Will to Swing, Brown revealed the main reason for ending his study of piano: "I just couldn't find my way on it. It just didn't give me what I wanted." Soon afterward, Brown, unable to afford a trombone, switched to bass, an instrument provided by the school's music department.
Brown's new musical role model emerged in Duke Ellington's innovative bassist, Jimmy Blanton. As he told Jack Tracey in Down Beat, "I just began digging into Blanton because I saw he had it covered--there was nobody else. There he was, right in the middle of all those fabulous records the Ellington band was making at the time, and I didn't see any need to listen to anybody else." As a teenager Brown played local engagements. Despite offers by bandleaders, he followed his mother's advice and finished high school before performing on the road with regional territory bands. After graduating in 1944, he performed an eight-month stint in Jimmy Hinsley's band. Around this time, Brown fell under the influence of bassists Leroy "Slam" Stewart and Oscar Pettiford, a prime mover of a modern jazz bass approach. He next joined the territory band of Snookum Russell. Eight months later, while on the road with Russell, Brown followed the suggestion of fellow band members and moved to New York City.
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