Evening Star Records is proud to announce the release of IN THE BACK ROOM, the first solo CD by piano master RAY BRYANT in over a decade. Recorded live at two concerts sponsored by the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University in Newark, NJ, the CD includes seven pieces never before recorded by the pianist. The first concert, from May of 2004, was part of a day-long Fats Waller Centennial celebration. Bryant held the audience spellbound with a mixture of Waller evergreens and some of his own captivating originals. He also included “If I Could Be With You” by Waller’s friend and mentor, James P. Johnson, whose daughter was in the audience. The remaining two tracks were recorded in October 2008, when Bryant gave the first in a series of solo recitals at the Institute by noted jazz pianists. Billed as “Jazz Piano: Four Generations,” the series was designed to show the continuum of the art of solo piano.
Bryant’s playing itself could serve as a capsule history of jazz piano. Watching him play solo, the noble lineage of the instrument comes alive as he conjures up aural images of Waller and Johnson, Teddy Wilson, Art Tatum, and Erroll Garner. Bryant’s artistry melds some of jazz’s earliest sources—the blues and gospel—with boogie woogie, bebop, and contemporary styles to create his own unique and immediately identifiable sound.
Born in 1931, Bryant joined the vibrant Philadelphia jazz scene of the late 1940s and early 1950s that included Philly Joe Jones, Benny Golson, and the Heath brothers. In 1948, guitarist Tiny Grimes came through town and took the 17-year-old Bryant on his first tour. After a two-year stint with Grimes, the pianist returned to Philadelphia. Bryant’s trio backed visiting jazz stars at the local clubs like the Blue Note, where he worked with such luminaries as Roy Eldridge, Stan Getz, Ben Webster, Lester Young, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, and Sonny Rollins. Davis and Rollins were so impressed with the young Philadelphian that each brought him to New York to record in 1955. In 1959, after a stint as Carmen McRae’s accompanist, Bryant decided to make the move to New York where he continued his eclectic musical education: “I spent my afternoons at the Metropole with guys like Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins, and Charlie Shavers. Then at night I’d go down to the Five Spot and play with the younger guys like Benny Golson and Curtis Fuller.” Bryant has always managed to fit into any context while remaining himself, so timeless is his style.
In 1959, Ray and his brother, bassist Tommy, formed a trio with the great drummer Jo Jones and a year later, the pianist formed his own trio. In 1960, John Hammond, the legendary talent scout, signed him to Columbia Records. Bryant’s first album for the label contained his huge hit, “Little Susie.” Soon afterward, Bryant wrote the music for a new dance craze, the Madison Time, which became another hit. (In 1988, it enjoyed a second life in the John Waters film Hairspray.) In 1972, Bryant recorded a stunning live solo album at the Montreux Jazz Festival (Alone at Montreux, Collectables), which created a new demand for his solo appearances. The pianist remains a favorite in Europe and Japan, where has performed many times over the past two decades.
While best known as a player, Bryant also ranks as one of jazz’s most prolific composers, compiling a vast body of work in a wide variety of idioms. His pieces, which include “Cubano Chant,” “Slow Freight,” and “Little Susie,” have been recorded by George Shearing, Cannonball Adderley, Max Roach, Art Blakey, Cal Tjader, Harry James, and Larry Coryell, among many others. In the Back Room debuts a new Bryant composition, “Little Girl,” written for his wife.
“…a thoroughly enjoyable hour’s worth of solo jazz piano that seems to pass in half the time. …Albums largely devoted to pop and jazz standards are common these days, but how often do you encounter one that infuses each performance with the charm and vitality that Bryant brings to this collection.” --Mike Joyce, Jazz Times, April 2009
3 ½ stars – Downbeat, April 2009
Named CD of the month by Bulletin du Hot Club de France (no. 577, p. 15)
Voted #2 in Top Ten New Issues for 2010, Jazz Journal Critics' Poll (February 2011)