Alongside his accomplishments as a composer and arranger, the multifaceted Steve Gray was also one of the most prolific session keyboardists in contemporary jazz, lending his talents to sessions headlined by Quincy Jones, Henry Mancini, and Peggy Lee. Born April 18, 1944, in Middlesbrough, England, Gray began teaching himself piano at age ten, later playing saxophone in his school band. In his early teens he attended a Duke Ellington concert, and according to legend he spent the bus ride home transcribing the music the jazz icon had just performed. After a stint as pit pianist at the Middlesbrough Empire, Gray relocated to London, where he signed on with a bop quartet led by renowned drummer Phil Seamen. Tenures with Eric Delaney, Johnny Howard, and Mike Cotton followed, and by the late '60s Gray was such an in-demand session player that he even headlined his own date, 1969's A Woman in Love. From there he led the fusion quintet Wasp in tandem with ex-Shadows drummer Brian Bennett and saxophonist Duncan Lamont. In addition, Gray wrote incidental music in a variety of styles spanning from classical to disco for music library clearinghouse KPM.
His skills as an arranger first earned notice when he collaborated with composer Jonathan Hodge for the 1971 Richard Burton vehicle Villain -- from there Gray collaborated with Olivia Newton-John, Petula Clark, and Tom Jones, and in 1975 arranged the Walker Brothers' acclaimed comeback effort, No Regrets. He nevertheless remained best known in the jazz world, racking up an impressive résumé that culminated in his long stint playing keyboards in guitarist John Williams' crossover unit Sky. After leaving the group, Gray reunited with Williams in 1988 to write a guitar concerto for the London Symphony Orchestra, followed by a piano concerto penned for French jazz legend Martial Solal. He also composed two operas and a requiem mass, and teamed with ambient pioneer Brian Eno to orchestrate many of Eno's compositions. From 1991 onward Gray worked with the NDR Big Band in Hamburg, Germany, masterminding a project celebrating the music of South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim. Gray also teamed with the NDR on a Duke Ellington tribute as well as a requiem mass for big band and choir. He died on September 20, 2008. ~ Jason Ankeny