Great Jazz Bassists

Ray Brown

Portrait of Ray Brown

Ray Brown was one of the leaders in defining modern jazz. He had a unique way of providing the sense of swing found in many of the recordings by Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Oscar Peterson, and others.

His philosophy that the Bass was the leader of the rhythm section, demarcating both the beat and the foundation for the melodic chord structure, was innovative. Instead of the drums setting the tempo, the Bass took charge of the song and determined the tempo and feel of the music. Today, many percussionists still have a problem with this concept.

He was born in Pittsburg, PA, home to many of the jazz greats in 1926 and lead modern jazz through the Big Band Era into the new century. His musical education began with piano, but when he discovered how many keyboard players there were, he took up the Bass.

Brown helped to start the bebop genre, but Dizzy Gillespie hired him away from his quartet to play in Dizzy's Big Band orchestra. When Ray met Ella Fitzgerald, he became her accompanist, musical director, and in 1948 he married her. Musical relationships are difficult and they divorced four short years later.

When drummer Buddy Rich bowed out of a concert with the Oscar Peterson Trio, Brown and Peterson made a musical connection that lasted fifteen years.

In the late 1960’s, Brown moved to Los Angeles and started working for various television show orchestras including Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Sarah Vaughn, and Nancy Wilson. During this time he also managed the young Quincy Jones, and produced shows for the Hollywood Bowl.

Late in his career, not only did he love performing and recording, but became dedicated to passing along his knowledge and experience with new generations of talented musicians through the public schools’ jazz education programs, NAJE and mentoring.


  • New Sounds in Modern Music (1946), Savoy Records
  • Ella and Louis (1956, Verve)
  • Ray Brown with the All-Star Big Band - Guest Soloist: Cannonball Adderley (1962), Verve Records
  • Brown's Bag (1975), Concord Jazz
  • One O'Clock Jump (1984), Verve Records
  • Black Orpheus (1994), Evidence
  • Bassics: The Best of the Ray Brown Trio 1997-2000 (2006), Concord Jazz

For more information on Ray Brown including his discography, visit:,,, brown discography, and