Ray Bryant Day

December 24, 1931 – June 2, 2011

A birthday tribute to the versatile and bluesy pianist

Pianist Raphael Homer “Ray” Bryant was born on December 24, 1931 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

He began playing piano when he was six and was influenced by gospel music, the blues and his classical training. Bryant first played professionally when he was 12, doubling for a time on string bass.

He toured with Tiny Grimes during 1948-49, worked as a solo pianist in Syracuse, New York for a year, played Dixieland regularly in a club for two years, and then became the house pianist at the Blue Note club in Philadelphia during 1953-56 which gave him the opportunity to play with Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Miles Davis and many other greats.

Bryant began to record (including on dates led by Davis and Sonny Rollins) in 1955, and with Coleman Hawkins as the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival.

He was Carmen McRae’s accompanist during 1956-57, worked with Dizzy Gillespie, Jo Jones and Ella Fitzgerald, and started leading his own popular record sessions.

Bryant had hit records with “Little Susie,” “Madison Time,” “Sack O’Woe” and “Ode To Billie Joe” (1967) but it did not stunt his creative growth as he evolved into a superb blues-based solo pianist who also led his own trios.

Ray Bryant, the uncle of Kevin, Robin and Duane Eubanks, stayed active up until the time of his 2011 death.

Here is Ray Bryant stretching out as a solo pianist in 1973.

-Scott Yanow