Ray Brown, a bass player, was born in Birmingham.  He was taught by his godfather to play the guitar but picked up the electric bass at age nine in church. By the age of 12 or 13 he was already touring around the UK playing gospel music. After church he would jam rock, reggae and more. Like others at the time it was meeting Andy Hamilton at the Mac Arts Centre that got him into jazz and into the double bass. He also took classical lessons with the CBSO and still has a classical teacher. He has played and toured with soul, disco and reggae bands as well as jazz. Returning from the USA in 1996 he started his own business running a fish & chip and Caribbean food shop. To maintain a regular income since then he has worked as a bus driver and also went to college and learned building trades as well as playing music.

Picture: Ray playing at the Silvershine Jazz Club in Bearwood, Sandwell.

“Now, the thing is with double bass and electric bass, they’re two different techniques. They’re not the same technique. … what I noticed the fingerings were different, totally different fingerings. …it gave me the knowledge, that I didn’t have, of how to go about taking classical lessons. And what happened was, I think, I rang Birmingham City Council, … and they put me through to the CBSO in Birmingham. …And I spoke to the principal of the bass section….about lessons playing double bass and he put me on to a teacher that lived in my area, who I’m currently still seeing to this day.”

BH: Bass player are often positioned at the back of the stage which restricts your photographic options. So it was great to get the chance at the recording session for the project to try a different approach and angle. Of course this echoes the angles that classic jazz photographers like Francis Wolff used – in their case it was often the fact that they were using twin-lens reflex cameras where you helf the camera at or below waist level to look down at the ground glass viewfinder screen.

Picture: Ray pictured at a Number 16 bus at Hockley, Birmingham – a route he used to drive..

“I think I started on the buses from 1994. Around that time, same time I was playing with the orchestra. Yeah. I was. Yeah, I was on the buses. What I found that when I had a business, I was working, going to college, doing the business in an I’m doing music. I was very, very busy. Very, very busy. I think I think I didn’t really have a social life. You know, my music was really my social life.”

BH: Ray was no longer driving the bus that had been a large part of his working life but we were able to set up this portrait which I think works well to reflect that aspect of is life. We had to wait around quite a bit to catch the right moment at the stop.

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Chris Young
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