Special guests John Clayton, John Patitucci and Dianne Reeves
Ray Brown, the legendary bassist who defined the role of the instrument in the 1950s with the Oscar Peterson Trio, had toured with Jazz at the Philharmonic for 18 years, played with everyone from Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, Dizzy Gillespie and Tony Bennett, had played the Monterey Jazz Festival many times in the early years, and had even been an artistic director to Jimmy Lyons in the 1960s.
The last time he played the festival was in 1994, with his trio that featured pianist Benny Green and drummer Jeff Hamilton, with special guests Milt Jackson, trombonist J.J. Johnson, and a then-22-year-old bassist from Philadelphia, Christian McBride, in what would be only the second of many Monterey Jazz Festival appearances.
It was a canny decision on the part of Monterey’s Artistic Director Tim Jackson and Brown as a “passing of the torch” moment for the iconic bassist to a younger generation. Monterey’s founder, Jimmy Lyons, had died in April earlier in the year, and at the 37th Monterey Jazz Festival, the Arena Stage was renamed the Jimmy Lyons Stage. On opening night, Friday, September 16, Brown was more than halfway through his set when he announced:
I have a little surprise for you. I’m hoping it’s going to be a treat for you. I have probably one of the most promising young bass players to come along in quite some time. I happen to think he’s as talented at his age as the guy that I copied playing the bass from, Mr. Jimmy Blanton from the Duke Ellington Orchestra. I’d like you to help me welcome to the stage Christian McBride.
McBride, a protégé who had already been recording and touring with Benny Green, Gary Bartz, Roy Hargrove, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, and many others, had recently recorded his debut record, Getting to It. Brown and McBride played two duets, “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be” and “Bye Bye Blackbird” and then “J-Bone” with the full group to a lively and adoring crowd in the Arena.
(L-R): Ray Brown, Christian McBride, Benny Green, Milt Jackson at the 37th Monterey Jazz Festival, 1994. ©Elde Stewart
McBride would later be asked to form a group with Brown, called Superbass, which included John Clayton – and would record several albums that would be released on Telarc in 1997 and 2001. Brown would pass away in 2002 at age 75, but not before his legacy was permanently cemented into Monterey Jazz Festival history.
McBride recalled to the Portland Jazz Festival in 2017 that “Ray mentored and inspired each and every person who was in his presence. Not necessarily by telling them these cosmic, proverbial secrets of life – it’s rarely like that – but by often just being himself. I was honored to make music with him on stage many, many times and hung with him off the stage almost as many ties. He had such a huge spirit.” In 2015, McBride told NPR that when Ray died, he and John Clayton each received one of Ray’s three basses, and he currently playing it.
Remembering Ray Brown features musicians who were there that night in 1994, as well as others who were directly influenced by, or played with Ray – Christian McBride, Benny Green, Greg Hutchinson, John Clayton, John Patitucci, and Dianne Reeves.