It is known that I had a close relationship with Ray Brown. One of the lessons I learned from him came out of a personally embarrassing experience.
As a teen, the more I learned about Ray Brown, the more I wanted to do what he did. It was probably that, more than being "like" him. I wanted to play bass, travel with Oscar Peterson, play on movie soundtracks and television shows–all of it. He could be who he was, but I just wanted to be like him. On top of his lifestyle, I truly love/loved his music.
This whole "need to belong and be accepted" thing that takes over your life as a teen surfaced when Ray and I were talking one day.
Ray asked me,
"Did you go hear the bass player from our class that we were talking about the other day?"
"Yes, I did."
"How did he sound?"
"He sounded okay, I guess. His groove was a little funny, the intonation wasn’t really good, solos were a bit weak, too."
"Hmm. Well, how was the piano player? I remember he’s blind."
"The piano player was alright–about as good as a blind piano player can be."
Ray looked at me, eyes VERY wide, and he said,
"Have you ever heard of Art Tatum?"
"No, I don’t think so."
"You go out and get some Art Tatum records. We’ll talk after that."
I did and we did. Of course, I heard some of the most miraculous piano playing I had ever heard on those recordings. It wasn’t just the technique, it was the content. Art Tatum was a "baaaad Motor Scooter," as we like to say on the street.
Ray’s lesson concluded with,
"We musicians can be our own worst enemies, if we’re not careful. We need to support each other. With all of the piano playing that Art Tatum could do, he would get in a taxi and ride across town to hear a piano player play blues with one finger. EVERYBODY has something to say in music. It’s important for us to support each other in this music business."
Thank you, Ray Brown.