Jazz guitarist from Brooklyn, New York, who graduated from the Eastman School of Music and hung around in Rochester for a while before moving to the Big Apple. He was on the staff orchestra of NBC-TV in the early days of The Tonight Show, but his milieu would not be the television studio, but the recording studio, where he is reputed to have played on over 10,000 records.
He started out with Harry Belafonte in the early ‘60s with The Many Moods of Belafonte, Belafonte at the Greek Theatre, and Streets I Have Walked. In 1963, he hooked up with Charles Mingus for The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady and Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus. He also made the cut on Charles Mingus: The Impulse Story. In the mid-‘60s, he continued to record with Belafonte on Ballads, Blues & Boasters, An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba (with Miriam Makeba) and An Evening with Belafonte/Mouskori (with Nana Mouskori).
He started to branch out into folk and pop in the late ‘60s, joining Jonathan and Leigh on Third and Main, Laura Nyro on More than a New Discovery, and the self-titled albums Tim Rose and Smokey and His Sister. Things went astral in 1968 with The Astral Projection on The Astral Scene and Van Morrison on Astral Weeks. No less psychedelic were the John Ylvisaker albums, A Love Song and Follow Me, recorded with Amanda Ylvisaker. Always ready to experiment (and what better time to experiment than 1969) Jay was a key element on Bob Freedman’s Journeys of Odysseus: A Jazz Suite for Chamber Orchestra and then helped Dick Hyman plug into Moog: The Electric Eclectics of Dick Hyman.
In 1970, he played guitar on the Perry Como hit “It’s Impossible” and reunited with Hyman and fellow guitarist Tony Mottola on Guitar Factory. (Mottola had been part of that talented guitar pool at NBC.) Another guitarist with whom Jay jammed with frequently was George Benson: He appeared on George’s 1971 releases The Best of George Benson and White Rabbit. He also found time to appear on the eponymous albums, Cris Williamson and Julie Budd.
By 1972, Jay had the experience and the clout to release his first solo effort, the potassium-rich Bananas Are Not Created Equal. It was a busy year for him to do so, as he also forged some more important creative partnerships with the likes of Airto, Deodato, and Milt Jackson. He revisited Harry Belafonte and Laura Nyro in 1973 on Play Me and First Songs, respectively. In 1974, he recorded the first of many albums with Ron Carter, entitled Spanish Blue, and followed it up with Deodato Max 20 and Judy Collins’ Bread and Roses in the two years that followed. He then joined Deodato in Concert and appeared on Deodato 2001, as well as Ron Carter’s Peg Leg and Songs for You. The latter was released in 1978, which also saw Jay swinging with Stephane Grappelli on Uptown Dance and heating up things on Spanish Fever with the Fania All-Stars. He even appeared on the soundtrack of Animal House. More collaborations with Carter and Deodato followed in 1979, along with an appearance on Frank Sinatra’s boxed set, Trilogy.
In 1980, he re-joined Airto Moreira on Return to Forever and a bunch of Muppets on Sesame Street’s In Harmony. Ron Carter also enlisted him for a unique project entitled Odd Spin 3/3: Empire Jazz, featuring jazz arrangements of John Williams movie themes. Jay touched base with Harry Belafonte in 1981 with Loving You is Where I Belong, accompanied Carly Simon on Torch, and teamed up with Gene Bertoncini, Richard Resnicoff, and Toots Thielemans for the guitar and harmonica affair, The Guitar Session. The mid-‘80s were rife with more Ron Carter and Deodato projects, including Carter’s Noche Soul and The Man with the Bass, as well as Super Fusion Deodato and Deodato’s long-awaited self-titled album in 1984. Jay played on the soundtrack of A Chorus Line the following year and then finally released his second solo album, Romantic Guitars, in 1987. On 28th April 1988, Jay joined The New York Strings, which comprised a string quartet with guitar and bass, for a program of Duke Ellington and George Gershwin songs at Weill Recital Hall. 1989 was less prolific but no less eclectic: He appeared on Grace Jones’ Bulletproof Heart and the soundtrack of When Harry Met Sally, with Harry Connick, Jr.
In 1990, he was visible on Carly Simon’s Have You Seen Me Lately? and Nino Tempo’s Tenor Saxophone. The following year, he celebrated the Yuletide with Blossom Dearie and Mike Rienzi on Christmas Spice So Very Nice and appeared on their album, Tweedledum and Tweedledee. You can also find him on a pair of Brenda Lee Anthology albums, released the same year. Jay lent his chops to Anne Hampton Calloway’s eponymous debut in 1992, as well as Peter, Paul & Mary’s Flowers and Stones. He was also recruited into the Coffee Club Orchestra, the brainchild of Garrison Keillor, for Shaking the Blues Away: Good Tunes for Hard Times. In 1993, Jay took part in Carly Simon’s most ambitious project to date, Romulus Hunt: A Family Opera. His guitar stylings took on a decidedly cabaret style in 1994 on Anne Hampton Calloway’s follow-up album, Bring Back Romance, Cynthia Crane’s Smoky Bar Songs for the No-Smoking Section, and Eartha Kitt’s Back in Business. He even squeezed in two weeks on Broadway, as part of the pit band for The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public. 1995 included the epiphanies Polka: A New Dawning by John Custie and The Road Not Taken by Lou Lanza. He even found time to chill out on the compilation album, Gentle Jazz. The following year was no less ambitious: Jay helped salute the King on Symphonic Elvis, featuring the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, spent November playing banjo for the Broadway revival of Chicago, and rang in the holidays with John Pizzarelli on Let’s Share Christmas. He also shared Christmas with Garrison Keillor on a pair of Prairie Home Companion broadcasts, in December of 1996 and 1997. He switched to the ukulele on Bette Midler’s 1998 release, Bathhouse Betty, and took part in another Coffee Club Orchestra project, the New York revival of St. Louis Woman. In 1999, Jay appeared on another movie soundtrack, Bossa Nova, and donned his proverbial top hat for Elena Bennett’s A Wrinkle in Swingtime and Bobby Short’s Cole Porter tribute, You’re the Top.
Jay ushered in the new millennium with a series of disparate projects: He appeared on the retrospective, The Remains of Tom Lehrer, did a mean Django Reinhardt impersonation on James Carter’s Chasin’ the Gypsy, and multi-tasked on banjo, guitar and mandolin on a re-recording of the musical comedy, Tenderloin. More cabaret-style recordings followed in 2001, with Kristin Chenoweth’s Let Yourself Go and Barbara Rosene’s Deep Night. How thrilled he must have been the following year to make the cut on Luke Vibert’s Further Nuggets! It could only have been surpassed by his inclusion on 2003’s Flying Funk. Things got folky in 2004 with Judy Collins Sings Leonard Cohen: Democracy and Peter, Paul & Mary’s boxed set, Carry it On. All this nostalgia must have gotten to Jay, who performed in a benefit concert revival of Hair on 20th September 2004. Equally philanthropic was the 2005 anthology, Broadway’s Greatest Gifts, Volume 7: Carols for a Cure. On 3rd February 2005, Jay was part of the house band in the Allen Room of Frederick P. Rose Hall in Lincoln Center for Jane Krakowski’s “Better When It’s Banned”. In 2006, he joined Barbara Cook At the Met and jumped on the bandwagon—or in this case, the trolley—for Songs from the Neighborhood: The Music of Mister Rogers.
Jay also acted as arranger and musical director on Susan Pillsbury’s self-titled debut album, and can be heard on the anthologies, The Best of Laura Nyro: Stoned Soul Picnic, Fire into Music, Vol. 3: The Best of Impulse!, The George Benson Collection, and Jazz Forever.
Frank Sinatra recordings
That’s What God Looks Like To Me (Stan Irvin/Lan O’Kun)
Reprise RPS 49233 (XNY2101S) (US 45)
Theme from “New York, New York” (Fred Ebb/John Kander)
Reprise RPS49233 (XNY 2103 S) (US 45)
Here’s his “I Just Want to Be There”….