Ray Bryant died on Thursday in a New York hospital following a long illness. He was 79. A pillar of modern mainstream piano, Bryant was often categorized as a blues pianist. He was certainly that, a great one, but his stylistic breadth, powerful swing and harmonic flexibility put him in demand not only by blues singers and players but also by the most sophisticated modern jazz artists from the 1950s on. A list of a few of his colleagues and employers gives an idea of Bryant’s range: Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Jack Teagarden, Carmen McRae, Zoot Sims, Betty Carter, Sonny Rollins, Dizzy Gillespie and Jimmy Rushing. Bryant was from a Philadelphia family that included his bassist brother Tommy, who died in 1982, and three nephews prominent in jazz—Robin, Kevin and Duane Eubanks.
Among his compositions adapted by others, “Cubano Chant” and “Blues Changes” were influential. He had hit records in “Little Susie,” “Madison Time” and “Slow Freight.” Bryant’s first solo album, Alone With the Blues (1958) is a basic repertoire item, essential to any reasonably comprehensive jazz collection. The CD and vinyl versions are, inexplicably, out of print and going at auction for as much as $185. The album can be had for significantly less as an MP3 download. It includes his memorable treatment of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Rockin’ Chair.”
For more about Ray Bryant, see Nat Chinen’s obituary in The New York Times.