Mark Gray was a superb musician. He had chops galore, but also really understood how to play the changes, and he could swing hard. He was totally immersed in the language of bebop, and along the way he embraced what was the electricity of the current music scene of NYC in the 1970’s and '80s.
He was a Minimoog master: He mastered the whole single-line Jan Hammer pitch-bend vibe. Mark played with the top musicians on the scene. I met him in 1978 when I joined Teruo Nakamura and the Rising Sun Band. We were the first band to have two keyboard players, Mark on Rhodes and myself on synths. In the beginning it was a bit difficult, but once he and the others saw where I was coming from, the band started to take on a new personality.
I got Mark into the Prophet V and he started to really excel on it. It helped him with bands like the Brecker Brothers and studio work, which demanded that the keyboard player knew how to negotiate those instruments.
He played hard and lived hard, and in the jazz life that’s not a great path to follow. Mark, along with Kenny Kirkland, were mainstays of the NY scene. They are both missed. — Jason Miles (producer, composer, keyboardist; jasonmilesmusic.com)
I met Mark in, maybe, 1975. We were playing with Hubert Laws. He quickly became my favorite piano player to play with: We never clashed harmonically, which is rare between guitar and piano players, plus he was versatile and could play a lot of styles well. The first Brecker Bros. tour I did was in April ’77, the Heavy Metal Bebop one. We recorded the album live at My Father’s Place in Long Island at the end of the month. Mark didn’t join the band until a couple of years later. We were buddies so I got him in. Straphangin’ was recorded at Right Track on 48th St. right next to Manny’s and all the other music stores (which are all gone now).
We did one BB tour of Europe in 1980 with Mark, Neil Jason, and Richie Morales on drums. We played the Montreux, North Sea, and some other festivals and clubs. There are some videos from that tour on YouTube.
Other than that, we pretty much did stuff in and around NYC, particularly at the Breckers’ club Seventh Ave. South. It was a great time for music in NYC and Mark was one of the best players on the scene. — Barry Finnerty (guitarist, composer, author; barryfinnerty.com)
For more on Mark Gray, read The Art of Synth Soloing: Mark Gray's NYC Fusion