The Great Ray Charles Ray Charles
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- 1The Ray04:01
- 2My Melancholy Baby04:24
- 3Black Coffee05:30
- 4There's No You04:48
- 6Sweet Sixteen Bars04:07
- 7I Surrender Dear05:07
Info for The Great Ray Charles
Ray Charles is a music legend beyond compare. A ten-time Grammy®-winning superstar who almost single-handedly laid the groundwork for soul music, Charles proved his mastery with countless jazz, country, R&B, and pop masterpieces as well, during a career that spanned seven decades. His remarkable life was celebrated in the 2004 biopic Ray – featuring Jamie Foxx’s Oscar-winning performance as the artist. His time at the Atlantic label (1952-1959) is seminal for music fans the world over. Recorded in 1957, and featuring a stellar band including bassist Oscar Pettiford, saxophonist David ‘Fathead’ Newman, as well as arrangements by Quincy Jones, this all-instrumental set is Ray Charles’ first jazz album.
So much printers ink has been put into service to celebrate the life and career of the late Ray Charles that the very idea of adding to the discussion can reek of sheer redundancy. An instantly recognizable American icon, Charles is easy to take for granted since he needs nobody’s advocacy, and his importance as an architect of Twentieth Century music is established fact. In a nutshell, “The Genius” combined Gospel feeling with R&B form and Soul music was the grand result. Also, unlike other “crossover” artists like Johnny Mathis and Nat “King” Cole, Charles attained his level of success not by perfecting contemporary pop forms but instead by refining elements of the juke joint and the church, doing so on his terms and to a degree that mass audience’s found irresistible. He would later crossover again with a pair of vastly important Country albums for ABC, but it’s his Atlantic stuff on which his stature is rightfully based, and it was on those classic LPs where Charles proved repeatedly that he was part of the rare breed of musician that did three things exceptionally well: Singer, Pianist, Bandleader. On THE GREAT RAY CHARLES, his second record for Atlantic released in 1957, we are provided with a glimpse of an additional, less celebrated element of Charles’ artistry, specifically his ability as a jazzman. That means there’s no singing to be found on THE GREAT, but that absence is more than filled by his magnificent instrumental prowess, which draws on the earthiness of the barrelhouse and modernizes it with the sophistication of the supper-club, which is to say we’re neck deep in the blues, and amongst some fine standards are selections from then new voices Quincy Jones and Horace Silver. Six of the album’s eight cuts feature a septet derived from his big band, with the redoubtable David “Fathead” Newman contributing on tenor and alto. Each side of the LP gets a trio blues to fill out the program, with “Black Coffee” featuring the talents of bass virtuoso Oscar Pettiford (He’ll turn up again later on ‘61’s Charles/Milt Jackson classic SOUL MEETING).
Jones’ “The Ray” opens side one, intertwining an urbane atmosphere with crisp playing and lithe soloing from Charles and Newman, and the stage is set. It’s smooth but never shallow, understand? “Black Coffee” is a really delicious tangle of achy improvising anchored by Pettiford and drummer Joe Harris’ faultless bedrock. Side two’s opener, Silver’s excellent “Doodlin’”, retains its composer’s sly mixture of warm accessibility and casual complexity, and as such is the one moment on this record that feels like it could’ve been derived from an unreleased late ‘50s Blue Note session. Quite the fine thing, and bettered only by the following track, a trio reading of Charles’ immaculate original “Sweet Sixteen Bars”. The kind of tune that can only be truly appreciated in the wee wee hours after suffering fresh emotional wounds, it shuffles with a pained dignity and is as strong as a bottle of distilled tears. The record closes with a nice reading of Charlie Shaver’s “Undecided” that sounds a bit like those primo all-star Swing-to-Bop Savoy dates from the late ‘40s. Based on the whole of this LP, it’s not hard to imagine Charles adding vocals to this superb jazzic motion with results similar to the laid-back, knowing hipster approachability of the perennially cool Mose Allison. He didn’t of course, having bigger fish to fry. And yes, I know I enthused about only five of this disc’s eight cuts, but trust me: the whole of THE GREAT RAY CHARLES is as sweet and natural as a bushel of ripened Georgia peaches. Occasionally it’s necessary to establish that certain beloved American institutions attained that distinction not through hype, hand-me-down wisdom or blind acceptance, but instead through a surplus of sheer talent and inspiration. Ray Charles is simply the truth. Accept no substitutes.
Ray Charles, piano
David Newman, alto sax or tenor sax
Emmott Dennis, baritone sax
Joseph Bridgewater, trumpet
John Hunt, trumpet
Roosevelt Sheffield, bass
William Peeples, drums
Oscar Pettiford, bass
Joe Harris, drums
In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked Ray number 10 on their list of "The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time" and was voted number 2 on their list of "The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time" in November 2008.
The name Ray Charles is on a Star on Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Fame. The name Ray Charles designates a superstar worldwide. His bronze bust is enshrined in the Playboy Jazz Hall of Fame. There is the bronze medallion that was cast and presented to him by the French Republic on behalf of the French people. In just about every Hall of Fame that has anything to do with music, be it Rhythm & Blues, Jazz, Rock & Roll, Gospel or Country & Western, Ray’s name is very prominently displayed. There are many awards given to him in the foregoing categories as proof.
Probably the strongest element in Ray Charles’ life, and the most concentrated driving force, was music. Ray often said, “I was born with music inside me. That’s the only explanation I know.”
Ray Charles was not born blind. In fact, it took almost seven years for him to lose his sight in its entirety, which means he had seven years to see the joy and sadness of this big wonderful world – a world he would never see again. As a seven year old child, in searching for light, he stared at the sun continuously, thereby eliminating all chances of the modern-day miracle, cornea transplants – a surgery unheard of in 1937.
Perhaps the reason that Ray Charles made music his mistress and fell madly in love with the lady is that music was a natural to him. Ray sat at a piano and the music began; he opened his mouth and the lyrics began. He was in absolute control.
But the rest of his life was not quite so simple. Ray was born at the very beginning of the Great Depression – a depression that affected every civilized country in the world. Ray was born in 1930 in Albany, Georgia, the same year that another Georgia native by the name of Hoagy Carmichael, was already making his mark on the world. In 1930, the year of Ray’s birth, Hoagy recorded a song that became an all-time classic and remains so to this day; a song titled “Stardust.” It’s ironic that these two Georgia natives would someday cross paths again, as they did 30 years later when Ray Charles was asked by the State of Georgia to perform, in the Georgia Legislative Chambers, the song they had selected as their state song. That song was Ray’s version of “Georgia,” written by Hoagy Carmichael. Hoagy, who unfortunately was too ill to attend the event, was listening via telephone/satellite tie-up.
Ray’s mother and father, Aretha and Bailey, were “no-nonsense” parents. Even after Ray lost his sight, his mother continued to give him chores at home, in the rural area in which they lived, such as chopping wood for the wood burning stove in the kitchen in order for them to prepare their meals. Chores such as this often brought complaints from the neighbors, which were met with stern words from Mrs. Robinson. She told them her son was blind, not stupid, and he must continue to learn to do things, not only for himself, but for others as well. Unfortunately, Ray lost the guidance of his mother and the counseling of his father at a very young age. At 15 years old, Ray Charles was an orphan, but he still managed to make his way in this world under very trying conditions; living in the South and being of African-American heritage, plus being blind and an orphan.
Ray refused to roll over and play dead. Instead he continued his education in St. Augustine, at Florida’s State School for the Deaf and Blind. A few years later, Ray decided to move. His choice was Seattle, Washington. It was in Seattle that Ray recorded his first record. It was also in Seattle that the seed was planted for a lifelong friendship with Quincy Jones. More information please visit the Ray Charles homepage.
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