Ray Charles

Artist's Choice: Ray Charles

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The 16 selections on this Artist's Choice CD might surprise casual listeners whose knowledge of Charles' impressive body of recorded work is confined to one or more of his "signature" tunes, like "Georgia on My Mind," "Hit the Road, Jack," or "What'd I Say." In fact, Charles is a stylistic chameleon whose musical vision has always been much larger than any single collection of his hits. He was an accomplished blues vocalist and soul/jazz piano player even before he cut his first record on Atlantic in 1952 at the age of 22, and he led a terrific touring jazz band in the late '50s and early '60s, populated with such great players as alto saxophonist Hank Crawford and tenor David "Fathead" Newman. In his autobiography, Charles maintains that music was "a necessity for me -- like food or water," and throughout his formative years as an artist, he soaked up musical influences like a sponge. So when the Hear Music folks put Charles to the task and asked him the Artist's Choice question about "music that matters," Charles delivered a veritable graduate course in music education. As a pianist, Charles pays tribute to his keyboard mentors and contemporaries, from boogie-woogie innovator Pete Johnson to Nat King Cole (who, like Charles, was an acclaimed keyboard artist before he was celebrated as a vocalist). Charles selects a bluesy, understated piece by pianist Hank Jones, but also includes tour de force efforts by Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson, two piano virtuosos who Charles admires enormously but never tried to emulate. (The criteria for Charles, as always, is their creativity.) Charles also acknowledges his big-band influences with a Duke Ellington version of "Solitude," a gorgeous version of "Stardust" by the Artie Shaw big band, and a Quincy Jones rendition of the jazz/funk classic "Moanin'." Miles Davis is name-checked and represented with "My Funny Valentine," and Charles selects a Charlie Parker/Dizzy Gillespie version of "My Melancholy Baby," to which Charles adds his colorful observations on Parker's playing -- "...by the time you think you've learned what he played, he went to some other place. You understand? That's creativity." Of course, most contemporary listeners think of Charles as a vocalist, and his vocal selections are equally eclectic and edifying. Along with Nat King Cole's "Sweet Lorraine," Charles chooses the equally smooth, urban "Driftin' Blues" of vocalist (and pianist) Charles Brown. Both men were huge influences on Charles early in his career. Jimmy Rushing, a great blues shouter, is given the Charles stamp of approval with "Sent for You Yesterday (And Here You Come Today)," and a young and very swinging Ella Fitzgerald offers a live version of "Mack the Knife." Charles honors his gospel roots in a selection by the legendary Swan Silvertones, and he confides in his liner note comments that he actually sang with the Swan Silvertones and also the Dixie Hummingbirds -- although he was never officially a member of either group. Gospel influences are also highlighted in his choice of Aretha Franklin's "Respect," although in this case it was undoubtedly Charles who was the dominant influence on the younger Franklin. Charles ends this highly entertaining musical biography with a 1981 recording of "Always on My Mind" by country maverick Willie Nelson, a masterful vocalist whose own singing parallels Charles' expressive phrasing and his soulful way with a melody.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 2:58
2 3:06
feat: Artie Shaw
4 3:11
feat: Art Tatum
6 3:16
7 3:26
8 3:39
feat: Hank Jones
feat: Miles Davis
11 4:49
feat: Quincy Jones
13 3:37
14 2:51
15 2:26
16 3:33
blue highlight denotes track pick