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Artist’s Choice: John Clayton on Ray Brown

John Clayton picks 10 favorite tracks by his mentor, the great bassist Ray Brown

John Clayton
Ray Brown

Ray Brown is the reason I play bass. The instrument chose me and I chose Ray Brown. At age 16, I didn’t know much about how awesome he was, but the more I studied him and studied with him, the more I learned what the jazz world already knew: He was a pivotal force in jazz from his bebop days until his death.


“Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me”

Duke Ellington and Ray Brown
This One’s for Blanton (Pablo, 1972)

Ray decided to play the bass after hearing this song played by Jimmy Blanton with Duke. I remember him telling me, “It wasn’t his solos that first got my attention-it was that sound, that groove and those basslines!” This, Duke’s last recording, was a session Ray was proud of.

“Two Bass Hit”

Dizzy Gillespie and His Orchestra

(RCA Victor, 1947)

It’s interesting to hear the Blanton influence rise to the top. There are a couple of places where he plays Blanton solo lines, almost verbatim. Check out the youthful enthusiasm he and the guys had!

“Killer Joe”

Quincy Jones
Walking in Space (A&M, 1969)

This is a classic. Quincy was responsible for seeing to it that Ray finally got to play with Grady Tate. That had never happened before this date. I heard this on the radio a while back and had to stop the car. I pulled over and called Christian McBride-together we screamed positive obscenities in trying to express how insane this cut is.

“My Funny Valentine”

Michel Legrand
At Shelly’s Manne-Hole (Verve, 1968)

This is obscure and it shouldn’t be. As a kid, I bought this album for this one track alone. This is some of the best bass and vocal you will ever hear. Period.

“My Shining Hour”

Sammy Davis Jr. with Count Basie
Our Shining Hour (Verve, 1965)

Very few people know that this is Ray Brown. His name is not listed and he was never a member of Basie’s band. If you know Ray’s sound and his lines, you won’t be fooled for a nanosecond. It’s interesting to hear him in this band-a perfect fit.


Milt Jackson
That’s the Way It Is (Impulse!, 1970)

Here is the stellar example of how to construct an unaccompanied bass solo. The band plays in the middle, but the solo returns to end the song.

“Gumbo Hump”

Ray Brown Trio
3 Dimensional (Concord, 1992)

This trio was amazing! If you couldn’t feel the soul and grease that poured off the bandstand, you were probably dead. Ray was extremely proud of this and his subsequent trios, and for good reason.


Ray Brown
Jazz Cello (Verve, 1960)

Cello! Not new to jazz, but Ray was one of the pioneers (after Oscar Pettiford) of this sound and concept. His solo ideas are as clean as a whistle. As always, it’s clear that he’s having big fun.

“A Sleepin’ Bee”

Jimmy Rowles and Ray Brown
Tasty! (Concord, 1980)

Ray loved playing with Jimmy Rowles. It had to do with Jimmy’s swing, quirkiness, keyboard touch and his soul. Check out Ray’s sound: It’s one of the clearer, cleaner sounds you’ll find of him. Just a microphone in front of the instrument.

“It Ain’t Necessarily So”

Ray Brown/Christian McBride/John Clayton
SuperBass 2 (Concord, 2001)

OK, I stuck this in for reasons of nostalgia. I can never forget the rehearsal we had with this group-everyone had to bring in a few things. When we read through this arrangement of Ray’s, from the first four bars you could tell that it was special. Ray put so much into every rehearsal and performance that it became impossible to not become wrapped in his joy and be drawn into the feelings he emitted.

Originally Published