BIO - IN DEPTH
Ray is a jazz keyboardist, composer, producer, and recording studio owner/engineer currently living in Waynesville, NC, a small mountain town just west of Asheville, NC. Born April 18, 1957 in Newport News, VA, he grew up and spent most of his life as a resident of S. Florida. He began playing piano when he was six years old and studied classical piano throughout his childhood and teenage years. However, Ray was always drawn more to improvisation and composition. This 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 child, Ray loved to listen to music by such composers as Rachmaninoff, Satie, Bartok, Debussy, Stravinsky, Holst, and many others. This set the tone for his musical development in a foundational way, for he never grew attached primarily to the pop music genre, but always gravitated towards the "classical" concept of music being composed and performed instrumentally.
An early musical influence for Ray 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 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.
As a teenager, Ray was also influenced significantly by the musical styles of recording artists and bands such as Yes, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Jan Hammer, and Gino Vannelli. Especially important to Ray's budding concept was Vannelli's earlier music, which had an innovative and fresh approach combining contemporary jazz harmony with the innovative orchestral use of synthesizers.
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 is widely known for crystal clear melodies, bossa nova rhythms, jazz harmonies and graceful form.
While playing in several local bands in South Florida, Ray continued his musical education at Palm Beach Community College, Eastman School of Music (Rochester, NY), University of Miami (FL), and finally graduated from Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, FL with a B.F.A. degree in jazz arranging and composition. He studied jazz piano with Vince Maggio and Chuck Marohnic, two excellent and truly inspiring pianists and teachers. Other teachers who were very influential upon Ray were PBCC band director, trumpeter, and percussionist Sy Pryweller, and Dr. Bill Prince, who was, at the time, director of jazz studies at Florida Atlantic University.
In 1979, Ray was working on a studio project and met engineer Michael Grosso who owned Spectrum Recording Studio, in Deerfield Beach, FL. In the next year, they formed a business partnership and co-owned and operated Spectrum for several years. Fully bitten by the recording bug, during this time Ray learned much about recording from Michael, read and studied independently, and had a great deal of hands on experience recording and producing for others. This time was foundational for Ray's future recording and producing ambitions.
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 will never forget the first time I heard "Are You Going With Me? I was floored. The 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 improv solo as a "composition", along with extended structural forms. 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, Herbie Hancock (in all his various manifestations), the atmospheric and textural elements in the music of trumpeter/film composer Mark Isham, jazz fusion ensembles Weather Report and the Yellowjackets. There was also the transcendent, lyrical genius of pianist Keith Jarrett, and later, Brad Mehldau.
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 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 Pro Tools HDX recording environment. The studio also features a magnificent 7'9" Petrof grand piano.
Upon his move to North Carolina in 2002, Ray built a new recording facility which he continues to use for his own projects as well as audio production for others. Designed by Steven Durr of Steven Durr Designs, LLC (Nashville, TN), the new Balsam Pillow Studio is a 1700 sq. foot two story facility which features a spacious control room with Argosy keyboard/Pro Tools workstation, piano isolation room, and studio with gorgeous mountain views.
In his career as an audio engineer, Ray has recorded, mastered, and/or produced projects for many artists some of which include singer/songwriter Erin O'Donnell, jazz guitarist Randy Bernsen, world music artist Richard Brookens, Grammy Award nominated flautist Nestor Torres, pianist/composer Jackson Bunn, jazz pop group Valerie Z. and Paris, jazz pianist/composer Bill Bares, violinist Vicki Richards, pianist/composer Matt Johnson, bluesman John Henry Cullins, Lake Junaluska Singers, Mars Hill University, Asheville Community Band, and Warner Brothers Publications, 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 presented the project to several major labels. Although the reactions were encouraging, no record deals were forthcoming. "I finally realized that without high powered representation and a working act it would be difficult to attract a label's attention," he says. However, he independently released the project himself in 1993 on his own newly formed label, Burning Blue Records.
Farewell to Shadowlands is music in an atmospheric textural new age/jazz fusion style similar to such artists as the Pat Metheny Group and Mark Isham and is inspired by verses in the Bible regarding the return of Christ and the renewal of all things. The title is based on the final chapter of the last book of the highly acclaimed allegorical work "The Chronicles of Narnia" by theologian and philosopher C.S. Lewis. In this final chapter, the main character, Aslan (who represents Christ), recreates the mythical land of Narnia the way it was always supposed to be... the "real Narnia." Ray adds, "The songs are a wonderful joy-filled allegory of future history, and I like to call this music 'second coming music'."
Featured on Farewell To Shadowlands are guest appearances by guitarist Randy Bernsen, former Weather Report percussionist Robert Thomas, Jr., Blue Man Group drummer Jeff Quay, and two time Grammy Award winner pop/latin vocalist Jon Secada.
In 2000, Ray released his second CD, Figures Of The True. This project is a collection of contemporary instrumental jazz compositions that combine exquisite textures, 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. At the time, it was the hardest, most complicated thing I ever did. Thankfully, I had the gift of time which enabled me to accomplish my goal."
The title, inspired by Christian writer and missionary Amy Carmichael, is a saying she coined in one of the many devotional books she has written. A "figure of the true" is something seen in the creation that reflects a spiritual truth pattern (Hebrews 9:24). The project is a collection of songs designed to reflect spiritual truth regarding life's experiences, the second coming of Christ, or the Divine Patterns behind the reality of all of creation. Accompanied by selected writings from Ray, other authors, and Bible passages, some of these themes include suffering, peace, searching, and joy. Figures Of The True features guest appearances by bassist Jimmy Haslip, and drummers Jonathan Joseph, Jeff Quay and Archie Pena.
Ray’s third CD, Beginning To See was released in September, 2007. As with Figures Of The True, this project took over 5 years to complete being recorded and mixed in several stages both before and after Ray’s move to North Carolina and the completion of his new recording studio.
Beginning To See enlarges the palette of contemporary jazz styles found on his earlier works with a diverse and eclectic mix of instrumental and, now, for the first time, vocal music. Infused with a radiant, airy sound, the project ranges from funk to straight ahead jazz to tone poem and beyond. Vocalist Rick Krive gives outstanding performances on adapted lyrics penned by the Anglican devotional writer Evelyn Underhill and Scottish poet George MacDonald. Many of the songs are solo instrumental pieces featuring Ray playing and sequencing all the instruments. Joining Ray are guest appearances by saxophonist Ed Maina, and drummers Jonathan Joseph, Jonathan C. Genck and Mark Griffith. Beginning To See stands out as a project with epic tunes, engaging melodies and lyric beauty.
In 2009, Ray released Lucid Dreaming, where he takes a stylistic right turn from contemporary jazz and expands his musical vision with a solo project of extraordinarily deep ambient soundscapes. Reminiscent of such artists as Stars of the Lid and Steve Roach, Lucid Dreaming creates a harmonically expansive musical environment that evokes atmospheres of shimmering beauty, warmth, and peace. Perhaps unique in this genre is the inclusion of passages from the Bible for meditation and intercessory prayer.
Ray’s latest project, Trinity One, was released in late 2016. This recording represents a new approach from his earlier studio production projects by featuring a core rhythm section of bassist Jimmy Haslip and drummer Bill Berg on every tune except for the solo piano improvisation “In The Day of Small Things”. The project delivers a melodically and stylistically diverse anthology of Ray’s music, with some songs culled from his earlier days as a composer, along with more recent inventions. Also on this project is Ray’s first cover of a jazz standard, an incendiary and beautiful take on Miles Davis’ tune “Solar”. Retitled “Solar (Flare)”, this song is especially prescient for the hour as it reminds and warns of the existential threat our world currently faces from naturally occurring space weather events of the kind that would destroy our modern way of life.
Foundational to Ray's approach to his music is his Christian faith. "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 as 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 link 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.
Future plans include working on completing a portfolio of unreleased tunes in the jazz realm as well as a new ambient project titled Ministry of the Interior.
Ray has been married to his wife Stephanie for 31 years. Stephanie is a musician as well, and plays French horn on "Signs + Wonders", a composition on Figures Of The True.