Friday, June 11, 2004

In memory of Ray Charles

In the 1950s, in my teenage years, my musical preference was jazz. Being a jazz lover then meant that all other music – classical, I must admit, was tolerated – was excluded, even though the musicians who played at the bi-monthly Rock n Roll Jamborees at the Wellington Town Hall were the same ones that played at the quarterly Jazz for Listening concerts. (This duality was universal. If you have a look at the back covers of Ricky Nelson records there is often a photograph of the back of a guitarist with the name of Rock Murphy who is not to be confused with the great jazz guitarist Barney Kessel who died earlier this year.)

But I was also a teenager. & that meant hit parades on the radio with Sinatra & Nat King Cole & Patti Page & Perry Como but starting to shift towards the early rockers such as Bill Haley who, although greatly admired, were still old enough to be our parents.

Then came the younger guys, Gene Vincent, Frankie Avalon, Gene Pitney, Elvis Presley, but they still tended to work in that older, popular, tradition. Take a look at Elvis' backing band sometime. It was the rhythm & blues influence that finally got things going. At first mainly sanitised white versions of black music, Pat Boone doing Little Richard's Long Tall Sally, but people like Little Richard & Fats Domino & Chuck Berry started getting on the charts.

& sometime in the second half of the fifties this incredible single, I got a woman, by Ray Charles. Perhaps it first made it on to the charts in a cover version by a white girl singer – Connie Francis? (though thinking about it a bit more I believe it was Hallelujah I love her so that was covered) – or perhaps it was the next single by Charles, What'd I say, that broke through. However it fell out I still loved the sound of this guy's voice, the way he phrased his songs. Loved his band & the backing singers, the tenor solos.

But I still didn't buy his records. Still stayed with Miles, Monk, Duke Ellington & the MJQ. Until one day in 1959, in a listening booth in Begg's Music Store in Wellington, I played two albums recorded at the Newport Jazz Festival the year before, Duke Ellington with an exquisite extra-long tenor solo by Paul Gonsalves, & Ray Charles. & I bought the Ray Charles. &, like Allen Ginsberg, I listened to Ray Charles blues shout blind on the phonograph....

Later I would buy more albums of his, with strings, with his band, with Milt Jackson. Would forgive him for recording country & western songs. Would forgive him for anything after having listened to The Genius of Ray Charles which has what seems like the greatest assemblage of musicians in history on one side – most of Count Basie's band plus some of Duke Ellington's plus Ray Charles' own band - & on the other, mainly with strings, some more interpretations of standards.

There is a version of Come rain or come shine on it that is truly one of the great tracks of all time. I am listening to it now. I am weeping.

1 comment:

harry k stammer said...

montreux jazz festival 7/13/1978, watching RC play, then stop the band and scream obscenities at them for not playing it right (his way) - great music, angry man