Ray is a jazz keyboardist, composer, producer, and recording studio owner/engineer who has resided in south Florida for over thirty years. Born April 18, 1957 in Newport News, Virginia, Ray began playing piano when he was six years old and studied classical piano throughout his childhood and teenage years. As a child, Ray loved to listen to music by such composers as Rachmaninoff, Bartok, Debussy, Stravinsky, and many others. Ray's penchant for improvising and composing proved to be somewhat of a hindrance to his formal piano studies! During his high school years, however, he studied with the late Argentinean concert pianist Raul Spivak, who thoroughly grounded him in classical technique.
As a teenager, Ray was influenced significantly by the musical styles of recording artists such as Yes, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and Gino Vannelli. Especially important to Ray's budding concept was Vannelli's music, which had an innovative and fresh approach combining complex jazz harmonies and solos, orchestral use of synthesizers, and long "story-telling" tunes.
Another major musical influence upon him during his late teens was the contemporary jazz/rock fusion music that was being performed by such groups as Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters and Chick Corea's group Return To Forever. A seminal moment for him occurred while watching television one night when he was 17 years old. On PBS's vintage music series "Soundstage", Ray caught performances by the above artists which had such an impact that from then on, Ray focused his energies nearly entirely on playing and studying jazz.
Softly beating in the background, musically speaking, was the music of Brazilian composer, guitarist, and pianist Antonio Carlos Jobim which Ray had listened to from childhood. "My older sister, Lory, was one of my biggest influences," he says. "She would come home from the record store with all kinds of music from Mancini to Coltrane to Zeppelin to the Beatles... you name it. One day she brought home an 8 track cartridge of Jobim's Wave. I would listen to that for hours. It was such comforting music. In fact, I would put it on to go to sleep and the 8 track would go all night and I would wake up and it would still be playing. I feel this music deeply ingrained itself in me, and influences me to this day." Jobim's music was widely known for crystal clear melodies, bossa nova rhythms, jazz harmonies and graceful form.
In the late 1970's Ray discovered the music of Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays and remembers falling in love with Metheny's self titled release "Pat Metheny Group". However, it wasn't until Metheny's 1982 release "Offramp" that Ray was really intrigued. He relates, "I felt like I had heard that music before, and I will never forget the first time I heard the song "Are You Going With Me?" I was floored. That tune expressed much of the concept I was after, though unformed in me. I could relate so much to the way they made music, the dramatic concept, the emphasis on the solo as a "composition", and the structural form. Lyle Mays' playing resonated with my own orchestral style of playing and it was Pat's musical vision and concept that so harmonized with my own. Their music, and dedication to their craft, is a constant source of inspiration for me."
Other musical influences prevailed as well, such as composer and saxophonist Wayne Shorter, the atmospheric and textural elements in the music of trumpeter/film composer Mark Isham, the jazz fusion ensembles Weather Report and the Yellowjackets, and the transcendent, lyrical genius of pianist Keith Jarrett.
Over the years, Ray has performed and/or appeared on recordings with several well known jazz musicians. He was a member of guitarist Randy Bernsen's Ocean Sound Band for several years, and recorded on three of his albums along with such artists as Jaco Pastorius, Michael Brecker, Wayne Shorter, and Herbie Hancock. He has also performed with jazz trumpet legend Dizzy Gillespie, trumpeter Ira Sullivan, vocalist Ursula Dudziak, saxophonist Ed Calle, and flautist Nestor Torres, among others.
In 1992, Ray built his own recording studio, Balsam Pillow. "I wanted a space away from home where I could concentrate on my own work, as well as provide a recording service for others." Originally equipped as a 16 track ADAT studio, (along with a 4 track Pro Tools system) the studio has evolved into a state-of-the-art 64 track Pro Tools recording environment. "I'm a big fan of hard disk recording", he enthusiastically relates, "and will never go back to tape". The studio also features a magnificent 7'9" Petrof grand piano which is featured prominently on Ray's latest release Figures Of The True.
In his career as an audio engineer, Ray has recorded, mastered, and/or produced projects for Calvary Chapel of Fort Lauderdale, CCM artist Erin O'Donnell, world music artist Richard Brookens, Grammy Award nominated flautist Nestor Torres, pianist/composer Jackson Bunn, jazz group Athenas, harpist Scott Marischen, guitarist Randy Bernsen, jazz pop group Valerie Z. and Paris, violinist Vicki Richards, pianist/composer Matt Johnson, Warner Brothers Publications, and Northwestern Mutual Life, among many others.
Ray began to compose the music for his first album, "Farewell To Shadowlands", in 1988 and completed the project in 1990. He attempted to shop the project to several major labels. "I finally realized that without high powered representation and a working act it would be difficult to attract a label's attention. It was also not the right time for me... God had other plans." he adds. However, he independently released the project himself in 1993 on his own label, Burning Blue Records. This has turned out for the best, since Ray is now able to retain complete artistic control of his musical projects.
His newly released CD, "Figures Of The True", is a powerful collection of Biblically based contemporary instrumental jazz compositions which combine exquisite textures and grooves, soaring synth leads and burning piano solos into an exciting mix that is richly panoramic, evocative, and inspiring. The project took over 5 years to complete and was recorded mostly at his own studio, Balsam Pillow. "I didn't work on it the whole time, but finished it in stages. This project was very difficult... producing, composing, engineering, and mixing your own stuff. It took forever to get it right. It was the hardest, most complicated thing I ever did. Thankfully, I had the gift of time which enabled me to accomplish my goal."
Foundational to Ray's approach to his music is his Christian faith; that which he calls a "personal relationship" with Jesus Christ. "I received Jesus as my Savior when I was 14 years old, and ever since then have been held by his grace." Ray believes that all music, and the talents that he has, are a gift from God and he seeks to glorify God by portraying what he believes is beauty, truth, and hope in his music. The Bible is a primary source of inspiration for him. "I often compose music and apply it to what inspires me from a particular scripture passage or concept I've read," he says. Of particular interest to Ray is portraying, in musical terms, elements involving Bible prophecy and the predicted return of Jesus Christ in the book of Revelation.
Ray remains committed to instrumental music as his primary vehicle of expression. "I have often been asked why I don't write songs, lyrics, or sing. That mode of expression is primarily communicating a message with the music as a medium, and is most common in the church today, as well as our culture. The music, therefore, becomes secondary. However, I feel that not enough attention has been paid in 'Christian music' to the concept that music can be a message in itself. Instrumental music can communicate concepts intuitively and emotionally in ways which lyric based music simply cannot. In fact, in the best instrumental music, words only get in the way. It has always been my desire to express myself in this fashion.... at least for now."
"Secondly," Ray adds, "I believe there is tremendous untapped potential in artist driven instrumental music as a vehicle for sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. Instrumental music can crossover into many areas that popular Christian music cannot. People could be attracted to the music because of its beauty, passion, honesty, or excellence and by looking at the song titles and liner notes, be encouraged to participate in a spiritual journey of their own. This is a non-antagonistic way of introducing and attracting people to the person of Jesus Christ."
As far as future projects are concerned, Ray is commencing work on CD of prayer and meditation music, as well as a new project continuing in the style of his earlier works.
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