"Both the depth and the playfulness characteristic of jazz piano at its best."
"You have a beautiful touch. . .Hank Jones and Tommy Flanagan should hear you play."
-Harold Mabern, pianist and composer
Pianist Dan Cray was born in Glen Ellyn, Illinois and began studying Suzuki piano at age four. Erroll Garner, Ahmad Jamal and Frank Sinatra records were played frequently in the house, however, and Dan soon developed a deep love for jazz. After meeting Chicago jazz piano great Mike Kocour at a summer camp at Northwestern University during high school, Dan was convinced of the need to delve deeper into the music and decided to attend Northwestern in order to continue his studies with Mike while also receiving a strong liberal arts education. During this time, he was also fortunate to continue studying classical piano with esteemed concert pianist and educator Donald Isaak. Dan graduated from Northwestern in 1999 with degrees in European History and Jazz Studies and embarked on a successful professional career in Chicago soon after.
Dan has been working full-time as a professional musician since graduation as both performer and educator. He was a finalist for both the 2004 American Pianists Association Cole Porter Fellowship and the 2003 Montreux Jazz Festival Solo Piano Competition, and has performed around the world in many diverse and creative settings. For over 12 years he led the Dan Cray Trio with good friends bassist Clark Sommers and drummer Greg Wyser-Pratte. The Trio's music was featured twice on the hit television show "Gossip Girl," and they were personally selected by Michael Keaton to provide music for his directorial debut, The Merry Gentleman. The Trio performed at the Chicago and Idlewild Jazz Festivals and at venues around the country including the 75th anniversary celebration at Baker's Keyboard Lounge in Detroit. Together the group released four CDs: "Who Cares" (2001), "No One" (Blujazz 2003), "Save Us" (Blujazz 2005), and the live recording "Over Here Over Heard" (Crawdad 2008). Their last two studio CDs spent over 10 weeks on the National and College Jazz Charts, while Chicago's NPR station WBEZ named each among the year's best in 2003 and 2005, respectively.
Dan was also privileged to work with a number of other established jazz musicians and ensembles in Chicago, including Ellington alumnus Eddie Johnson, Bobby Broom, Ira Sullivan, George Fludas, Geof Bradfield, Kurt Elling, and the Chicago Jazz Orchestra. Additionally, he worked as sideman or music director on over fifteen albums while also maintaining an active private teaching practice. In early 2009, Dan joined the Chicago Improvisers Orchestra led by Uruguayan composer Elbio Barilari. Performances of multi-movement suites dedicated to Presidents Lincoln and Obama were performed to capacity crowds at Millenium Park in Chicago and at other venues across the city.
In the fall of 2009, Dan moved to Brooklyn, NY to continue pursuing his career while working on a Masters degree at New York University. During this time, he was appointed adjunct professor at NYU, teaching jazz, classical and pop in private and group settings. After graduating in May of 2011, Dan recorded a new CD of mostly original works featuring saxophonist Noah Preminger, drummer Mark Ferber and bassist Clark Sommers that was released to critical acclaim on Origin Records in April 2012. He continues to live and work in New York as both performer and educator.