Sunday, June 5, 2011

Dinner Parties with the Ray Bryant Trio

"Angel Eyes," recorded by Ray Bryant in 1957

When I was growing up, my parents would always play the classic Ray Bryant Trio album whenever we had guests over for dinner. To this day, it strikes me as the epitome of what adults ought to play at dinner parties -- sophisticated jazz piano, a mix of ballads and uptempo numbers, the harmonies tangy but never atonal. Midcentury modern music, Bryant playing the piano like a virtuoso but still seeming to hold something in reserve, like the cool cat he was. (The album seemed all the more mysterious and sophisticated because, for some bizarre reason, we owned a Japanese import edition and I therefore couldn't learn the song titles or read the liner notes.)

I always assumed that Bryant was long dead, perhaps because his music speaks of such a far-off time, but it turns out that he died this week at the age of 79. It's weird, I feel both surprised that he was alive up till now, as well as sadness at his passing. I suppose I hadn't realized just how young he was (age 25) when he recorded the Ray Bryant Trio album, which makes his achievement all the more amazing! (Did people just look older in the 1950s? That photo of him on the album cover looks like no 25-year-old I know these days.) Also, I learned from his obituary that "Ray" was a nickname and his full name was Raphael Homer Bryant -- how cool is that? May he rest in peace.

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