Raphael “Ray” Bryant, (December 24, 1931 – June 2, 2011), jazz pianist and composer.

Ray Bryant was a talented jazz pianist from the hard bop era. Born in Philadelphia, he became the house pianist at the Blue Note club in Philly while still in his early twenties, playing alongside his brother, Tommy, a bassist. While there, he backed up several visiting jazzmen, including Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Miles Davis. He played on Miles Davis’ 1955 album The Miles Davis-Milt Jackson Quintet/Sextet with Jackie McLean. He also played on the legendary Dizzy Gillespie album Sonny Side Up, which also featured Sonny Rollins and Sonny Stitt.

He made his debut recording as a leader with singer Betty Carter and went on to release 30 albums, as well as numerous recordings as a sideman. He was also a noted composer, writing the jazz classics Cubano Chant (with Art Blakey) and Little Susie,” as well as the novelty tune “The Madison Time” which reached number 30 on the Billboard charts and was later included on the soundtrack to John Waters’ film Hairspray. He also had a chart hit with a cover of the Ode to Billie Joe in 1967. He and his brother Tommy also accompanied the British comedy revue Cambridge Circus, which was an early forerunner of the Monty Python group and featured John Cleese and Graham Chapman.

In addition to leading his own trio, he frequently accompanied singers, including Jimmy Rushing, Carmen McRae, and Aretha Franklin. His piano playing was noted for its strong sense of time, and roots in the blues and gospel church music. Ray Bryant died in New York City after a long illness at the age of 79. In addition to his wife and two children, he is survived by his nephews, jazz trombonist Robin Eubanks and guitarist and former “Tonight Show” bandleader Kevin Eubanks.

Advertisements