We’re featuring an interview with bassist Larry Gray on this week’s episode. Larry’s multi-instrumental path has taken him through performance on guitar, flute, cello, and piano in addition to bass. Larry is in high demand as a jazz bassist in Chicago, performing regularly for decades at Joe Segal’s Jazz Showcase, and he teaches at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Enjoy!
About double bassist Larry Gray
Born on Chicago’s south side, Larry Gray is considered by many to be one of jazz music’s finest double bassists. His impressive versatility and uncommon musical curiosity keep him in demand as both a leader and sideman.
Larry began his musical studies at the age of five when his father brought home an accordion and introduced him to his first teacher. Invigorated by this study, Larry added the guitar to his arsenal and studied piano seriously for many years thereafter. It was not until he was in his twenties that he decided to switch to the double bass. Larry went on to study classical music extensively, eventually adding the cello to his long list of loved instruments. His principal teachers were Joseph Guastafeste, longtime principal bassist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and cellist Karl Fruh, a highly regarded soloist and teacher. Under Mr. Fruh’s guidance, he received bachelors and masters degrees in cello performance from the Chicago Musical College of Roosevelt University.
Throughout his long and varied career, Larry has worked with numerous exceptional artists and jazz legends, including McCoy Tyner, Jack DeJohnette, Danilo Perez, Branford Marsalis, Benny Green, Freddy Cole, Benny Golson, Steve Turre, George Coleman, Lee Konitz, Bobby Hutcherson, Sonny Fortune, Ira Sullivan, Junior Mance, David “Fathead” Newman, Willie Pickens, Ann Hampton Callaway, Charles McPherson, Antonio Hart, Jackie McLean, Sonny Stitt, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Al Cohn, Randy Brecker, Nicholas Payton, Kurt Elling, Eric Alexander, Phil Woods, Jon Faddis, Roscoe Mitchell, Von Freeman, Wilbur Campbell, Eddie Harris, and Les McCann. In addition, he has collaborated with guitarists Kenny Burrell, Joe Pass, and Tal Farlow, as well trumpeters Donald Byrd, Harry “Sweets” Edison, and Tom Harrell, among others.
Larry continues to tour extensively, performing at jazz festivals and clubs around the globe, including the Umbria Jazz Festival, the Havana Jazz Festival, Rio Sao Paulo Festival, North Sea Jazz Festival, the Montreal International Jazz Festival, ECM Festival in Bielsko-Biala, Poland, the Poznan Jazz Festival, Monterey Jazz Festival, the Montreaux Detroit Festival, the Chicago Jazz Festival, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Hollywood Bowl, Village Vanguard, Blue Note (New York and Tokyo), Kennedy Center, and the Ravinia Festival, with such jazz luminaries as Marian McPartland, Clark Terry, Nancy Wilson, Frank Morgan, James Moody, Larry Coryell, Louis Bellson, Barry Harris, Dorothy Donegan, Monty Alexander, Frank Wess, Joe Williams, Doc Severinsen and the Tonight Show Band, Kenny Drew Jr., and most recently, Ramsey Lewis.
As a classical musician, Larry played several seasons with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, including a year as principal bass. He worked on many occasions with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under master conductors Erich Leinsdorf, Rafeal Kubelik, Carlo Maria Guilini, and Sir George Solti. He also was the featured double bassist with Lyric Opera for the world premiere of the opera Amistad.
Larry is an arranger and composer whose work has been widely recognized as uniquely melodic and exceptionally refined. His discography includes 1,2, 3,…, on Chicago Sessions, the solo bass record, Gravity, One Look, and Solo + Quartet, all on Graywater Records, as well as the Ramsey Lewis and Nancy Wilson collaborations Meant to Be and Simple Pleasures. He can also be heard on the Ramsey Lewis recordings Appassionata, Time Flies, and With One Voice, and the latest release, Songs From the Heart. Larry also arranged and produced the critically acclaimed CD, Django by Ferro.
Furthermore, Larry has recorded with Chet Baker, Curtis Fuller, Ira Sullivan, Lin Halliday, Willie Pickens, Nicholas Payton, Randy Brecker, Bunky Green, Bob Moses, Irish flute-whistle virtuoso Laurence Nugent, pop sensations Linda Eder, Dennis DeYoung, and Peter Cetera, and songwriter Michael Smith, among others. In addition, Larry is a first-call studio musician, and his playing can be heard on many commercial radio and television jingles and studio projects as well as the PBS television series, Legends of Jazz, where he can be seen performing alongside Jim Hall, Benny Golson, Chris Potter, Phil Woods, David Sanborn, Chris Botti, Clark Terry, and Roy Hargrove.
In addition, Larry’s original composition for double bass and guitar, Five Movements, was commissioned and performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chamber Ensemble at Symphony Center in Chicago. Most recently, Larry has composed two commissioned works for the Jazz Institute of Chicago. Tribute to the Bass Masters Suite was premiered at the Poznan Festival in Poland in 2008 to much acclaim. A second work, String Thing, was first presented in Chicago in October 2010 as part of the Jazz Institute of Chicago Jazz in Chicago series. Larry also completed a collaborative project with bassists Rufus Reid and Joseph Guastafeste that was premiered in March of 2011 in Chicago.
Larry Gray is also a dedicated teacher and is Assistant Professor of Jazz Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He also served for many years on the faculties at DePaul University and Northern Illinois University. Active as a clinician at high school and colleges and festivals thought North America, he also coaches various instrumentalists in jazz techniques as well as music theory, sight-singing, and composition.