Keith Pray’s Ortet at Jazz on Jay Today

Widely known as a saxophonist, composer, arranger and leader of bands large and small, Keith Pray is also a respected music teacher.

A saxophonist from age nine, he became a skilled organist after a double epiphany. 

At 18 he saw Larry Goldings lay down the beat on organ in Maceo Parker’s band.”I had never heard a groove like they were playing,” says Pray, an Adirondack native who studied at Schenectady County Community College, Crane School of Music at Potsdam and Queens College. 

Epiphany number 2: He rented a New York apartment that came with a Conn organ.

Pray moved to Rotterdam in 2006 to teach at SUNY Schenectady (called Schenectady County Community College when he studied there) and at SUNY Oneonta. He now teaches in the Schenectady City School District and leads the UAlbany Jazz Ensemble. Fronting several professional bands as a saxophonist, he was also inspired by organists Dr. Lonnie Smith, Jimmy Smith, Charles Earland and Jimmy McGriff, and he studied organ with Tony Monaco. 

He built his Ortet on the classic blueprint of organ, drums and guitar or sax – or both: At Jazz on Jay, he plays organ with straight-ahead players tenor saxophonist Brian Patneaude and guitarist Mike Novakowski, and drummer Chad Ploss whose resume includes rock, blues and pop groups.

Pray has released seven albums as leader of a big band and smaller groups, most recently “Universal Blues,” a sax-dominated album with diverse sounds and singing, and “Down the Middle” with 3 Bass Hit. 

The Ortet, 3 Bass Hit  and his quartet and trio are all performing actively, and his Big Soul Ensemble (17 pieces in its monthly Van Dyck residency) is reassembling after the COVID shut-down. On July 26, the Big Soul Ensemble plays the Cock ’N’ Bull in Galway; Pray usually playing alto and soprano saxophones with this big band.

Today, it’s Keith Pray the organist, leading his Ortet.

Jazz on Jay show time is noon where Jay Street meets State Street. Rain site: Robb Alley at Proctors adjacent to Apostrophe. Free.

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