Keith Pray
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Keith Pray

Cohoes, New York, United States

Cohoes, New York, United States
Band Jazz Jam


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"CD Review: One Last Stop"

With apologies to fans of classical music, jazz will always generate the most fervent intellectual debates - about phrasing, meaning, motivation, or any number of subjects related (and unrelated) to jazz. How to stop this? Introduce one Hammond B3 organ and shake well. Organ-based jazz - particularly organ mixed with saxophone - is just too damn much fun, and it's hard to be intellectual when you're busy having fun.

Keith Pray understands this concept; otherwise One Last Stop wouldn't be as much of a blast as it is. In his liner notes, Pray talks about how jazz must “hit you in the soul and give you an uplifting feeling.” While the saxophonist cites two major influences that drive this disc - R&B music and the blues - it's that same feeling that drives every good organ-based jazz tune.

Take Jimmy Smith's “Back At The Chicken Shack”, for example. You won't get the same dissection and deconstruction you'll get if you play a group of jazz fans something like Miles' “All Blues”; on the other hand, you'll probably get everyone to agree that “Chicken Shack” is one hell of a party tune! One Last Stop is one hell of a collection of party tunes - all with strong ideas, good solos, and fine musicianship. But most importantly, the disc has that indefinable pulse that gets you to nod your head as you listen, even if you're not aware you're doing it.

The title track is probably the most “jazz-based” tune on the disc; Pray says late-'60's Coltrane inspired it, but I also felt the same swirling sensation I got from Dexter Gordon's amazing cover of Dizzy's “A Night In Tunisia” - a spiritual vibe, to be sure. And yet, there's this driving, nasty quality to the tune that is anything but spiritual, and it can be linked right to Dave Solazzo's burning organ that not only sets the base (and the bass) for the tune, but also gives it a Ferrari-with-no-brakes sensation that gives you two choices: Cover your eyes, or watch the scenery fly by. (Solazzo combines with fiery guitarist Tim Reyes to get the same hell-bent-for-leather feeling on the superfast “Up Jump”.)

After the title track, things get further from jazz and closer to R&B, and everything that that applies. “Meetin' & Greetin'” is a church song - or, more precisely, an after-church song, where everybody is sitting down at the table, breaking bread, and sharing in each other's company. “When She Smiles” (written for Pray's wife Katie) is a slow-dance love song par excellence, with references to Brook Benton's “Rainy Night In Georgia” and the J5's “Never Can Say Goodbye” mixed in with the passion Pray brings to his reedwork.

The rest of the disc is pure 60's-70's funk - the kind of good-time sound we got from James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Booker T & the MGs, and a host of other artists that make you turn up your radio to this day. Pray may be inspired by Coltrane, but I hear more of the passionate side of the saxophone (Cannonball Adderley, Maceo Parker) in both his playing and his writing. He's always got good ideas in his solos, but it's the joy with which he expresses those ideas that gets me. What also gets me is his band, who helped drive this music over two live recording dates. Reyes, Solazzo and drummer Joe Barna really stick and move, hitting you hard with one blast of funk and then dancing away to prepare for the next attack. Greg Lewis replaced Solazzo on “Meetin' & Greetin'” and the funked-up closer “Roots”, and while Lewis keeps it between the lines, he doesn't have that sense of adventure, even danger, that Solazzo's solos carry.

One Last Stop builds on the accomplishment of Oshe's The Good Book, in that a good, technically sound live recording is possible at this level. But, most importantly, it reminds us of Charles Mingus' exhortation that, in order to really feel music, you gotta get it in your soul. Amen, Keith. Amen.
- J Hunter (Albany Jazz)

"CD Release Party Review"

Let me put it to you like they used to say: Keith Pray plays so much saxophone it's a crime! And, in two sets Saturday night at the Muddy Cup here in Albany, he was aided and abetted in his endeavors by a very talented group of accomplices. The group included Pray on tenor and alto saxes, Dave Solazzo on Hammond B-3, Tim Reyes on guitar, Joe Barna on drums and Lee Russo, sitting in on tenor for 4 songs.

Pray and his cohorts played songs from their new release One Last Stop, but also threw in some standards (e.g., “Have You Met Miss Jones”, “Equinox”, and a jazz blues, whose name I should remember but can't at the moment (“When Will the Blues Leave”?, possibly) and even a smokin' take on the Michael Jackson/Clifton Davis hit, “Never Can Say Goodbye” (which brought back some fond, seventies slow jam memories for me and, I'm sure, at least some of the other baby-boomers in the room).

Pray's aggregation is a modern update on the soul-jazz organ combos of the sixties, and his original compositions offer tasteful, catchy and harmonically rich melodies, ranging from the ballad, “When She Smiles”, to the burner, “Meetin' and Greetin'.” As noted above, Pray himself displayed great facility and creativity in his playing, but this is a band of great players! Solazzo and Reyes, each given plenty of solo opportunity displayed both intensity and restraint, virtuosity and lyricism in their playing throughout the evening. Joe Barna, offering a Charles Barkley-like countenance (i.e., powerful and artful) on the drum set, drove the band skillfully with his attentive accompaniment and showcased his chops as well in some fiery soloing.

But, Keith Pray was the star of the evening! His playing cooked, grooved, smoked - suffice it to say, the man can play: jazz, blues, rhythm and blues, ballads, up-tempo jams, you name it. Lee Russo, the other horn man on the set, was no slouch either. His tone, lighter in contrast to Pray's brawnier output, encased some tastefully complex and nuanced blowing. He (along with each member of the Pray Nation) is a musician to watch, and go out to catch, whenever the opportunity is presented.

Finally, a nod to the Muddy Cup, which offered a nice, relaxed atmosphere (and all kinds of good coffee) for the jazz fans, who came out to hear Pray and Company.
- Albert Brooks (Albany Jazz)

"Keith Pray's Big Soul Ensemble article"

Big band, big soul
Jazz is in the air every month as ensemble gathers at Tess' Lark Tavern

By MICHAEL ECK, Special to the Times Union
First published: Sunday, December 31, 2006
Saxophonist Keith Pray stands, turns and raises both hands. He makes a splayed finger gesture and the brass explodes into a fat riff that rolls out over the heads of the reedmen and into the audience.
It's the first Tuesday of the month, and the Big Soul Ensemble is in the house at Tess' Lark Tavern.
The tune is "Conge Mulence" by Afro-Cuban master, Machito. It's one of the group's "cover" tunes, but even at that it sports a spirited new arrangement by Pray.
The Big Soul Ensemble is a seventeen-piece big band, with, as Pray says on his Web site, "the freedom of a jazz quartet."
Pray, 33, plays alto saxophone, the mid-size horn with the sweet tone favored by such greats as Charlie Parker, Art Pepper and New York wild man John Zorn. Pray, who also plays tenor and soprano, likes to push the low end of the alto, aiming for a warmer sound that anchors his strong, energetic arrangements.
He is not only the leader of the Big Soul Ensemble, he's also its founder, its life-force and its cheerleader.
"I started my first big band when I was 18," he says. "We only lasted for one gig, but it was fun."
Getting started
Pray was born in the Adirondacks, in Keeseville where he played saxophone in the Ausable Valley High School band. He knew he wanted to play music but he didn't know what instrument until he put a reed in his mouth.
"I played my first note and I knew that's what I wanted to do," he says.
In his case, playing the horn led the way to listening to jazz, not the other way around.
The same goes for Brian Patneaude, 32, who plays tenor sax in BSE as well as soprano, alto and baritone with other groups, including his own much-hailed quartet and Latin mainstays Alex Torres y Su Orquesta.
Over a Saturday afternoon lunch at the Lark, the men laugh over a youthful affinity for heavy metal. It's a knowing laugh, as both feel the sheer energy of that style still informs their music today.
"I definitely like higher intensity music," Pray affirms.
That power is certainly reflected in tunes like Pray's "Roots" and his arrangements of the Howard Dietz/Arthur Schwartz standard "Alone Together" and Kenny Garrett's "Qing Wen," all of which have found their way into the BSE songbook.
By day, Pray and Patneaude, who met in a College of St. Rose practice room in the mid '90s, are both music educators (Patneaude studied at CSR and the University of Cincinnati; Pray at Schenectady County Community College and the State University at Potsdam's Crane School of Music). By night they, like many jazzmen, play in a variety of bands, including their own combos.
Despite all the work of teaching, playing and scheduling the next gig, both are also tireless promoters of the region's jazz scene.
Patneaude, in fact, runs the invaluable Web site, which has become an information source for fans, club owners and musicians.
Pray -- who honked his way onto the local scene with the electric funk band Caged Monkey -- does his part simply by putting musicians in the same room with each other.
"Part of my reason for starting the big band was to get people together," he says. "I wanted to get players who would normally not have the chance to work together in one spot to play some good music and network."
New York scene
Pray, a stocky, short-haired fireplug, actually spent most of the last seven years living in New York, where he found opportunities to play, but little sense of fraternity.
"I moved back here knowing there was a good jazz scene here," he says, "otherwise I would have found some new place to go. The scene in New York is so huge and there are so many musicians that you could say there's plenty of work and no work, all at the same time. I played a lot, with a lot of great people, and I had a great experience, but there wasn't a sense of community. Everybody was so busy just trying to get by."
He gigged continually in the region while he was living downstate, but immediately upon his return, five months ago, he began putting out feelers for a big band.
Patneaude was one of the first contacts; and he took Pray to meet Tess Collins at The Lark.
"I had no idea that it would get put together as quickly as it did," Pray says. "It literally went from, 'Let's go down to Tess' and see if we could physically fit a big band on the stage,' to later that day having a gig booked and calling musicians and asking for charts."
Don't let the phrase big band fool you, though. This isn't your grandmother's dance music.
"There's always been a split between dance bands and concert bands," Pray says. "This is a concert band.
"I had a specific vision for what this band could do," he explains. "I wanted a very loose band that could play like a combo, like a small group, but at the same time could navigate more complex arrangements with a full ensemble and a lot of improvisation. I didn't want it to sound the same every time, and I wanted the players to make up the sound of the band, rather than just the charts."
Role models
Pray quickly cites seminal leaders like Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus as role models for his project.
One his prime arrangements, in fact, marries Mingus' "Moanin' with John Coltrane's "Syeeda's Song Flute."
Those references make sense, as both Ellington and Mingus led their bands with a cross between an open hand and an iron fist.
"I love Mingus' writing; I love Mingus' ideas on writing; and I love how much room he gave his musicians to be themselves, which was also a very Ellington thing."
Playing for tips on a Tuesday night does not make for a high-paying gig. Pray says the attraction for the players comes from a purer place than the pocketbook.
It also takes a certain finesse from the leader; an ability to juggle personalities doesn't hurt either.
"Part of the trick of putting a big band together," Prays says, "is balancing the fact of keeping people interested, yet not overdoing it."
Rehearsals take place at Niskayuna High School, where BSE saxman Dave Fisk is a teacher.
And while original songs and arrangements aren't an absolute rule, Pray is encouraging members, like trumpeters Mike Falzano and Kevin Hendrick, to contribute.
Patneaude's "Changes" is one the band's best numbers, full of sharp turns, tight lines and deep groove.
"I had no idea how to arrange for a big band," Patneaude says. "I know what sounds good to me, and I know what that sounds like on a piano; so I thought, I'd be crazy not to take advantage of this opportunity and see what happens."
The men nod to Collins as a sort of foster-mother for the band.
Collins used to work at Justin's, just around the corner from the Lark. The latter, according to Patneaude, has long been a mainstay of the region's jazz scene. He also names 9 Maple Ave. in Saratoga Springs, The Stockade Inn in Schenectady and the WAMC Performing Arts Center in Albany as prime spots for local jazz these days.
But on the first Tuesday of the month, The Lark is the only place to be.
Michael Eck, a freelance writer from Albany, is a frequent contributor to the Times Union.
Keith Pray's Big Soul Ensemble
Where: Tess' Lark Tavern, 453 Madison Ave., Albany
When: 9 p.m. Tuesday. The band performs on the first Tuesday of each month.
Admission: free, donations accepted
Info: 463-9779
- Michael Eck (Times Union)


2002 Keith Pray Rhythm of the Blues

2004 Keith Pray C.D.'s Delight

2006 Keith Pray One Last Stop

2010 Keith Pray's Big Soul Ensemble: Live at the Lark Tavern



Saxophonist and composer Keith Pray is a native of Upstate NY. Keith began his study of the saxophone in 1988 at age 15, and had his first professional performance one year later. Since then, Keith has traveled from the West Coast to Europe playing with hundreds of gifted musicians, including some of the giants of the business: Paul Anka, Benny Golson, The Temptations, Ray Vega, Mark Vinci and Ralph Lalama. For 8 years, he resided and preformed in New York City and played with artists from multiple disciplines including R&B, Jazz, Latin and Big Band. Now relocated to NY's Capital Region, Keith performs regularly and teaches saxophone at SUNY Oneonta, jazz arranging and jazz history at Schenectady County Community College and instrumental music for the Schenectady City School District.

Keith has taken the city’s eclectic culture and infused it into his original performances and compositions. This blend is also heard and felt as he teaches individuals or as he holds clinics at all levels including High School and College. Whether one hears Keith perform or learns from him, his love for music and respect for the different genres is loud and true.
His unique style and talent has allowed him to perform and record across the spectrum of today’s music. Having worked on dozens of recordings he was honored to be a featured soloist on the Grammy Nominated Entres Amigos by Alex Torres and the Latin Kings. Keith’s style can be attributed to the influences from the greats deep in the Jazz tradition, including Cannonball Adderly, Lockjaw Davis, Maceo Parker, Earl Bostic, Johnny Hodges, Willis Jackson and Jackie Mclean.
Keith has also been seen on ABC’s Good Morning America and The View and Food Network’s Food Nation. Other performances of note include The Newport Jazz Festival, Albany’s Riverfront Jazz Festival, 103.1 Smooth Jazz Festival, Albany’s Tulip Festival, Larkfest, Fleet Blues Fest as well as a featured artist at A Place for Jazz.
In 2001, Keith released his first recording, Rhythm of the Blues. Fans and appreciative listeners have said:
“Keith has the soul and energy of a young Cannonball Adderly”
“Keith always makes us feel good when we hear him”
“Keith is the only saxophonist I have heard that smiles through his music.”
His second recording, C.D.’s Delight was recorded during his performance at A Place for Jazz. Present at that night a listener said:
“you can feel the energy his live performance come through the notes and seep into your soul”
With a third recording, One Last Stop, now released Keith and a fourth on the way, Keith is constantly honing his craft through study, practice and by experimenting with new ideas on the bandstand. Currently, Keith is performing throughout the North Eastern United States with his latest projects including his big band (Big Soul Ensemble) and his group the Soul Jazz Revival including original music by Keith.
Honors and accolades follow Keith: of note are the ASCAP Louis Armstrong Award and the Essex County Performing Arts Award. Keith is also a member of the Schenectady Musical Union, BMI and Capital District Jazz ltd.