[JPL] Daniel "Big Black" Ray Inducted Into The Coastal Jazz Association of Savannah Hall of Fame

JASSavannah jassav at comcast.net
Fri Aug 15 14:26:18 EDT 2008

Daniel "Big Black" Ray Inducted Into The Coastal Jazz Association of Savannah Hall of Fame

Master musician, percussionist and hand drummer (and actor),  Big Black, was born Daniel Ray in Savannah, Georgia in 1934, and grew up as a child in the Carolinas. 


Ray got his nickname from an older brother when he showed interest in drumming as a child.  Unfortunately, "Big Black" has gotten far more noteriety for his colorful name than for his importance as an exceptional percussionist and one of the better practitioners of Afro-Cuban jazz rhythms in the 1960s. 

After high school, Mr. Ray spent five years alternating between Florida and the Bahamas. During these formative (but inventive) years he played with Lord Flea's Calypso band in the Bahamas and with the Calypso Eddy Trio. He worked in Miami with Jack Contanzo, Moe Coffman and the Contemporary Jazz Orchestra. 

Ray later formed a band with Jamaican trumpeter Billy Cook in Nassau and began mixing Caribbean and jazz rhythms. 

During the 1960s he often worked with "jazz giants" Randy Weston, Freddie Hubbard, Ray Bryant, Johnny Barracuda, Junior Cook, Eric Dolphy and Dizzy Gillespie.  He subsequently was dubbed "The king of Congas". 


A recording contract with UNI/MCA, led to the release of "Message to our Ancestors," ('67) "Elements of Now," ('68) "Lion Walk," ('68) and "Big Black and the Blues in 1972. These musical statements introduced collaborations with Dizzy Gillespie, Randy Weston, Hugh Masekela and Freddie Hubbard with Art Blakey on the collectors, essential recording, "Night of the Cookers." 


Big Blacks' recording and acting careers soared afterwards, to even greater heights. The next two decades would prove to be truly eventful, on the theatrical level as well, as a musician in international films such as, Dizzy Gillespies' Havana Bop, and When We Were Kings. 


He has been in demand at international festivals such as:  The Montreal, Monterey, Newport,  The Playboy Jazz and Music Festivals, and at the Zaire Music Festival, prior to the Muhammad Ali Fight in 1974  (it was Big Black on congas in Ali's corner that night to open the fight's festivities). 


Big Black continues to advance musically. His technique, is  considered unorthodox for a drummer, because he prefers to set out and approach the drums as a pianist would approach their instrument, left hand being bass or lower keys and the right hand, treble or the high keys.  When Big Black is accompanying a pianist the tonal exchanges, reminds one of listening to mallets being played on the piano strings.  His distinctive feel of melody and harmony, is what distinguishes Big Black from all other hand drummers and percussionist. 


In consideration of global influence of Big Black and his participation in the many variations and mutations of jazz and African drum influenced music over the past fifty years, he is being recognized for his musical contribution and achievements by being inducted into the Coastal Jazz Association of Savannah Hall of Fame for 2008.  Mr. Ray will be performing at the 2008 Savannah Jazz Festival (www.savannahjazzfestival.org) with the Coastal Jazz All-Stars. 


Source Acknowledgements


-         Paxton Whitehead / AllAboutJazz.com

-         Ron Wynn / All Music Guide

(Note:  Daniel Ray appears often as Daniel "Rey" on the internet, so keep this in mind during any internet search).

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