Ray Charles - piano, vocals; Hank Crawford - alto sax; David "Fathead" Newman - tenor sax; Leroy "Hog" Cooper - baritone sax; John Hunt - trumpet; Marcus Belgrave - trumpet; Edgar Willis - bass; Teagle Fleming - drums; with the Raylettes:; Mary Ann Fisher - vocals; Darlene McRae - vocals; Margie Hendrix - vocals
A soul music icon, Ray Charles was equally conversant in jazz, as he often showcased in the early part of his career. Charles documented that side of his musicality in two superb Atlantic recordings from 1958 - his collaboration with vibraphonist Milt Jackson on Soul Brothers/Soul Meeting and his triumphant Ray Charles at Newport (both of which featured Ray playing alto sax as well as piano). Charles brought his stellar band back to Newport in 1960 for George Wein's annual clambake and turned in another electrifying performance that easily straddled the jazz and R&B worlds.
After festival emcee Willis Connover introduces Charles as "pianist, singer, influence, popular celebrity," the band comes out swinging with the leader's hard boppish "Joy Ride," which features tight interplay from the horns along with bristling solos from trumpeter Marcus Belgrave, baritone saxophonist Leroy "Hog" Cooper and tenor saxophonist David "Fathead" Newman. A soulful piano intro by Charles signals the band's molasses-slow rendition of Count Basie's "Lil' Darlin'," which Ray plays over with deft right-handed runs. Second trumpeter John Hunt gets off a nice lyrical solo here while lead trumpeter Belgrave enters with a fusillade of notes that sails over the top of this luxurious ballad with chops to spare. Tenor man Newman contributes to the conversation with a soulful solo of his own. Next up is a rendition of Max Roach's "Blues Waltz," a swinging 3/4 time instrumental that highlights more tight harmonies between the horns as well as dazzling solos from trumpeter Belgrave, tenorman Newman and second trumpeter Hunt (who opens his solo with a riff from Ray's "Lonely Avenue"). The indefatigable Fathead then speaks with a loud voice on his tenor solo, followed by a robust bari solo from Cooper.
After those three instrumentals, Ray breaks out his first vocal number of the set, a spirited romp through the Louis Jordan party anthem "Let the Good Times Roll." In the context of this energized jump blues number the Newport crowd is also treated to a string of first-rate jazz solos by the leader's formidable horn section. Charles follows with another number associated with Jordan, this time taking on the melancholy ballad "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying" (a hit for the "King of Jukeboxes" in 1945). Ray's soulful vocals are expertly shadowed on this rendition by Belgrave's finesse trumpet work, and Charles turns in an emotionally-charged solo himself on piano.
The Raelettes, his trio of female backup vocals, takes the stage for a rousing rendition of the lesser known gospel flavored boogaloo number "Sticks and Stones," which is decidedly in the vein of his more popular 1954 hit single, "I Got a Woman," or his 1959 hit, "What'd I Say." Raelette Margie Hendricks steps forward to deliver the exceedingly soulful "My Baby," a gospel flavored tune which in the church would probably be called "My Jesus." Charles takes an impassioned vocal chorus after Hendricks, and he wails with sanctified intensity. This is quintessential soul music -- a bit of church, a bit of blues, and a whole lot of testifying. At this point in the set the rowdy late night crowd begins yelling for "What'd I Say," but Charles opts for more passionate testifying in the slow blues "Drown in My Own Tears," a deep feeling number that comes directly out of the church and is imbued with churchy piano fills and incredibly soulful vocals.
Shifting the energy level radically, Charles heads into the aforementioned "What'd I Say," which has him engaging the Raelettes in playful call-and-response near the end of the spirited six-minute number. The Newport crowd gets actively involved here, participating in raucous call-and-response shouts along with Ray (a routine that would remain a trademark part of his live shows until his final years). As the song ends, the Newport crowd explodes into a resounding ovation until Ray returns for an encore of his anthemic "I Believe to My Soul."
Following this triumphant appearance at Newport, Charles would trailblaze new musical territory with ABC Records, doing his soulful take country music on 1962's Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music (which including the gold-selling single, "I Can't Stop Loving You") and 1966's Crying Time (featuring Buck Owens' title track). He continued to make a smooth transition to pop success through the '70s and '80s with appearances on television ("Saturday Night Live," "The Cosby Show," "Sesame Street") and in the popular film The Blues Brothers. Charles remained a headliner at major music festivals around the world through the '80s and '90s and continued performing into the new millenium. In 2003, he recorded an album of duets featuring B.B. King, Willie Nelson, Michael McDonald, and James Taylor. His touring schedule was seriously curtailed after hip replacement surgery later that year. He died on June 10, 2004 of liver cancer at his home in Beverly Hills, California. His final album, Genius Loves Company, released two months after his death, consists of duets with various admirers and contemporaries including B.B. King, Van Morrison, Willie Nelson, James Taylor, Gladys Knight, Michael McDonald, Natalie Cole, Elton John, Bonnie Raitt, Diana Krall, Norah Jones, and Johnny Mathis. The album won eight Grammy Awards, including five for Ray Charles for Best Pop Vocal Album, Album of the Year, Record of the Year and Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals for "Here We Go Again" with Norah Jones, and Best Gospel Performance for "Heaven Help Us All" with Gladys Knight. He also received nominations for his duets with Elton John and B.B. King. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked Charles number ten on their list of "The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time" and voted him number two on their November 2008 list of "The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time." (Milkowski)
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