Jimmy Raney: Gone But Not Forgotten

By Jean Metcalfe

On May 10 I took an emotional trip down memory lane. 'I visited the Fat Cats in the Highlands, the Swiss Restaurant onBarret Ave. , Downstairs at Actors on Main S t. 'and Pepper' s Bar & Grille at the Hyatt Regency Hotel downtown. 'Jimmy Raney, a native son and legendary jazz guitarist, was playing at each of those places. 'How sweet it was. '

But you can't get there by car anymore. 'Even if you could, Jimmy Raney wouldn't be there. '

When I learned that Jimmy had passed away on May 9, I searched – our archives for the January 1990 edition of this newspaper. 'It was our first isue to have a cover story and Jimmy was the subject. 'I wanted to re-live those wonderful times when I had talked with this living legend and listened to his music. 'I especially cherish the bitter cold December evening in 89. '-when we met for the cover story interviewat the Swiss Restaurant. '

The place was virtually deserted and my husband and I enjoyed a very personal dinner concert during which Jimmy led us in an evening of "Name That Tune. '"

A coffee-stained sheet of plain white stationery titled "Jimmy Raney B iography" resides in our files; it is a favorite item. 'Raney's credentials are well known to most jazz musicians around the globe and they are listed in numerous jazz reference books as well. 'But the undated, dog-eared biography, with notations in Raney's own hand, is my favorite source. 'In it we learn that J immy was bom in Louisville on August 20, 1927 and took up guitar at the age of 10. 'We discover that in 1944 he was introduced to the music of Charlie Parker, which he translated to the guitar, "being among the first to do-so. '"

Jimmy Raney was awarded the first Helen Hume Jazz Legend Awards by the Louisville Jazz Society in 1993

A mere sample of Jimmy's albums (more than 40 under his own name), awards (twice winner of Down Beat Intemational Critics' Poll), performances (Newport Jazz Festival) and music associations (Woody Herman, Stan Getz, Tony Bennett) is quite impressive, but Raney cites the period that he played with Stan Getz as the most satisfying of his career. '

"We had the best j azz group (a quintet) in the country and everybody knew it. '"' Speaking of his compositions, Raney once told me: "To create something of your own is a need. 'The main part is the doing. 'Nothing else is as good as that. 'After you write a piece of music, hearing it played for the first time is a real thrill. 'The actual hearing of it, hearing someone interpret it, is a real thrill. '"" But once he has listened a couple of times, he said, he doesn't listen anymore. '

Fromconversations with Himrny I also leamed that in additiont o writing and playing music, he liked to paint and read. '(He recommended one of this favorite books, which IU promptly read and enjoyed. He was things of taking up photography, which he had become interestedinwhile living in New York "I could take pretty good black and white he said. '

The July 1989 issue of LMN (our fourth one) had on the front page a photograph of a smiling Jimmy Raney taken on Jime 17 when he was appearing inatrio with Sandy Neuman and Phil Bailey, filling the first set for Walker & Kays. 'I especially enjoyed re-visiting the following paragraph from that review: Greg Walker and Jeanette Kays returned from their earlier engagement to do the final two sets and, as usual, they were very entertaining. '

When Ms. 'Kays sang'Lover Where Can You Be?' Raney walked to the stage andsaid to her,'Here I am, ' and gave her a goodbye hug. '"

On whether musical ability is innate or learned, Jimmy once told me: "Itliirikpeople arebom with an ear for music, which I have -— not Lhe best in the world — but that's not the main thing. '

You have to have a good ear, but not perfect pitch. '

I have poorperfect pitch. '

I think what you have to have to be an artist is a creative gift. '"

Discussing the vagaries of fame, Raney laughingly told of an incident that happened while he was tending to his mother smodestLouisville-arearesidence (she is in a nursing home) : A neighborhood lad had heard that Raney was famous. '"Is that true?" he wanted to know After a bit of hedging, Jimmy admitted that he supposed it was, well, sorta e "Then what are you doing living here?" the boy shot back Raney summed up fame for me: "A famous bus driver only matters to other bus drivers. '"

In our last conversation some four months before his stroke in December of I993, I wondered if Jimmy had ever thought of writing an autobiography Oh I don't know," he said,' I'd never given it any thought. ' 'who cares?" Well I think people do care," I said. '"I "I can understand. 'someone ought to write a biography of Stan Getz. 'But me, I don't know nah he protested. '

Well maybe you could write your story and include information about other people that you've come in contact with so that they'll get "I don't think I m important enough. ' 'to have a biography published," he insisted. '

"I know several people who would disagree with that I countered. '

Actually I know quite a few. '

The following article by Jimmy Raney appeared in the June/July 1993 Louisville Jazz Society Newsletter and in the August 1993 issue of this newspaper. 'We hope it brings a bittersweet chuckle to our readers; I'm quite sure that it would bring that old familiar twinkle to Jimmy's eyes.