Passing the gift on

Ray Brown Jr. brings his musical heritage to Israel.

July 17, 2019 20:24
4 minute read.
Passing the gift on

RAY BROWN JR.. (photo credit: ILKO GALLERY)

When it comes to marketable monikers, Ray Brown Jr. has a head start on most. Jazz fans will instantly associate him with his famous adoptive dad, late legendary bassist Ray Brown. Add to that the fact that his adoptive mother was none other than iconic vocalist Ella Fitzgerald and you have yourself a pretty decent nurturing, musical domestic backdrop.

So it comes as little surprise to hear that Brown, the son, eventually became a vocalist who plies his craft through various genres, primarily jazz. Brown will display his skills, gifts and parental heritage here next week when he kicks off a six-date tour of the country at Beit Ha’Am in Rehovot (July 23, 8 p.m.), as part of the Black Jazz Soul international jazz project masterminded by internationally renowned, Russian-born pianist Leonid Ptashka. Other circuit slots include shows at the Performing Arts Center in Beersheba, Tel Aviv Museum, Rappaport Center in Haifa, and Narkan Hechal Hatarbut in Karmiel, closing at Hechal Hatarbut in Netanya on July 28.

It wasn’t just a matter of hearing records playing at home or his famous parents warming up for concerts. As a kid, the now 69-year-old singer had access to some of the biggest names in showbiz at the time, and really lived the vibes of the industry. “I was around music for as long as I can remember,” he says. “I was always going to concerts and recording studios, television shows, all the time.”

Mind you, the youngster was exactly fazed by all the razzamatazz, in fact, it was more a bane than a boon. “People say that must have been great, but when you’re a kid, you’re thinking, ‘Why am I inside, say, in a recording studio when I want to go outside and play with my friends?’” he laughs. “You don’t think about the history and all those great artists you are meeting. You just want to say, ‘Can I go now?’”

Naturally, Brown Sr. and Fitzgerald primarily worked and hung around with their fellow jazz creators. But their son was more interested in the people who made more contemporary sounds. “When I was growing up I enjoyed going to see the people my parents worked with but I thrilled when my mother came home with an autograph of [soul singer] Marvin Gaye.” Luckily, his parents were broadminded. “My mother brought me music by the [British rock & roll band] Dave Clark Five. She knew I appreciated rock & roll and pop music and rhythm and blues music of the time.”

BUT THE kid grew up, and began to appreciate his parents’ line of work and associated sounds, like the blues. Even so, it wasn’t just the sonic content that attracted the teenager. “There were a lot of blues records lying around,” Brown recalls. “But I was fascinated by the fact that vinyl came out in all kinds of colors. I remember having a Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee album, and the vinyl was red.”

Brown may have had something of youthful rebellion against his musical heritage but he absorbed it all, so that when he set his sights on a musical career – at the grand old age of 13 – the roots of the jazz idiom were well and truly in place. “I always enjoyed jazz,” he says. “It’s funny that I generally got to hear the music live before I heard it on record because of all the shows my parents took me to.”

Although he has primarily earned a crust as a vocalist, Brown was also drawn to the drums. “I played drums for a long, long time. I’d be in clubs and I’d be backstage listening to [Count] Basie’s band. Butch Miles was on drums. He was just tearing it up! There were no issues with volume. So I thought, ‘You can be free and you can be different.’”

Brown was in his teens when ‘60s pop and rock kicked in, and he quickly became a fan. “The Beatles were great,” he says, adding that the Fab Four helped to mold his musical consciousness and appreciation of vocal jazz. “I think they were the first band that really got me into listening to lyrics.” Of course, that’s a significant component of his craft. “It’s something I continue to work on, that is, singing the story, not singing the words. The words are all there but we all relate to them in our own way. As musicians we get to retell stories which may have affected our lives at some point, in some way, and we get to retell that story.”
It is, says Brown, a powerful medium which should be handled with care and respect. “Music is universal, and the thing about music is that it evokes an emotion, it touches us in some way. It can make us happy, sad, some things can make you angry. There are things that are meaningful. That’s what music is. That’s the power of music.”

For tickets and more information, call *3221.

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