Jazz legend Brown dies

Musician known as dean of jazz bassists

This article was corrected on July. 8, 2002.

Ray Brown, the jazz bassist who redefined the way the instrument is played in bebop and swing while backing Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson and Ella Fitzgerald, died Tuesday in Indianapolis. Brown, known as the dean of jazz bass, was 75.

Brown played golf in the morning and went to his room to take a nap; when he did not show up for his gig at the Jazz Kitchen, a bandmate went to his room and discovered Brown’s body. Still actively recording for the Telarc label, he released “Some of My Best Friends Are … Guitarists” in June and was touring with his trio at the time of his death.

Born in Pittsburgh, Brown was 19 when he moved to New York and immediately wowed Gillespie during a rehearsal that earned him a spot in the band with future bebop legends, saxophonist Charlie Parker and pianist Bud Powell. He was featured on the classic Gillespie recordings “Night in Tunisia” and “One Bass Hit.”

In 1947, Brown married the singer Ella Fitzgerald, formed his own trio to tour with her and then became her musical director. They continued to work together even after their divorce in the early 1950s. At the time, Brown was also busy recording with Parker and the Milt Jackson Quartet.

Producer Norman Granz, who guided Fitzgerald’s transition from pop to jazz singing, enlisted the two for his touring Jazz at the Philharmonic, when Brown began a 15-year association with the pianist Oscar Peterson. The Peterson trio, first with Herb Ellis on guitar, became one of the most popular groups in jazz throughout the 1950s.

Brown was the rare bassist leading bands on recordings in the 1950s, making his debut on Verve in 1956 with “Bass Hit!.” He recorded 13 albums for Concord between 1975 and 1991 and since then had made a dozen recordings for Telarc, most notably two “Super Bass” recordings with Christian McBride and John Clayton.

In 1963 he won a Grammy for best jazz composition, “Gravy Waltz,” which he wrote with the talkshow pioneer Steve Allen. During that decade and stretching into the 1960s, Brown was consistently voted top bassist in critics’ and readers’ polls.

Brown moved to Southern California in 1966 after leaving the Peterson group and developed a Hollywood presence, scoring John Cassavetes’ film “Husbands” and often playing music for animated shorts in the late 1960s and early ’70s. He was the bassist for all of Frank Sinatra’s TV specials and appeared regularly on “The Merv Griffin Show” with his band the L.A. Four. He guided the Hollywood Bowl Assn. in producing jazz concerts and briefly managed acts, among them Quincy Jones and the Modern Jazz Quartet.

His book, “Ray Brown’s Bass Method,” was considered one of the most important instructional manuals for the instrument.

Brown was a resident of Sherman Oaks. He is survived by his duahgter, Corinne Marie Coppola, his wife, Cecilia, and his adopted son with Fitzgerald.

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