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10 May 2010

The Life And Times Of Ray Charles (1973)

Clipping from Jet, 19 July 1973.

The Hallelujah Chorus - The Life And Times Of Ray Charles was "a concert that mixed a bit of theatrics, a touch of oratory and some righteous jazz music", written, produced and narrated by James Baldwin.
Program brochure.
It was in fact a double concert, staged at 6 pm and 10 pm at Carnegie Hall, on 1 July 1973. In an ad in the Village Voice, the personnel was announced as "Ray Charles Solo, Ray Charles Trio and Ray Charles Orchestra". One of the sketches, about Ray, his mother and his brother George, was acted by Cicely Tyson, David Moses and (James' brother) David Baldwin.
As the photo below shows, James Baldwin, Ray, the Orchestra and The Raelettes were all on stage. Mixed with Baldwin's oratorium interludes, Ray, the band and the girls played regular concerts. Two tunes played during these concerts made it to the festival's compilation album, Recorded Live At Newport In New York (Buddah BDS 5616).
Before the festival took place, organizer George Wein said in Billboard, "There is no way, even if we get full houses for both concerts for this particular event, that we can make money on it. However I hope that it will be recorded and filmed. We can also create a property with it and tour with it."
Afterwards, the conceptual, dramatic parts of these concerts were considered to be a failure by most critics and by the same George Wein (cf. this). In his autobiography (written with Nate Chinen) from 2004, Myself Among Others, Da Capo Press, page 387 - 388), Wein stated:
Whitney Balliett, jazz critic of The New York Times (quoted from: Collected Works: A Journal of Jazz 1954 - 2001, St. Martin's Griffin, 2002, page 397) gave the most evocative description of the show's structure:
British music magazine Melody Maker (July 7) had the most precize - and destroying - description of the Baldwin/Charles artefact:

The setlist of the first show was:
  1. Sweet Sixteen Bars
  2. Seems Like I Gotta Do Wrong
  3. Lift Every Voice And Sing
  4. Every Saturday Night
  5. The Long And Winding Road
  6. Look What They've Done To My Song, Ma  
  7. Going Down Slow
  8. Feel So Bad
  9. I Can Make It Thru The Days (But Oh Those Lonely Nights)
  10. Hey Mister
  11. America The Beautiful
  12. My God And I (guitar solo: Harvey Sarch)
  13. So Soon
  14. What’d I Say
  15. Outro
My God And I (Buddah):

In the second set, Ray replaced #5 by Yesterday, and inserted Eleanor Rigby in between #9 and #10.
Baldwin's influence on the setlists seems to have been very limited. Maybe Ray only programmed a few blues tunes (#1 and #7), that he only rarely played live, on James' request. Baldwin must have liked the over-representation of songs from the album A Message To The People from 1972 (#2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10), but Ray simply always promoted his recent albums in live concerts. Song #9 is the only known live rendition of this tune (from the album Through The Eyes Of Love, 1972). Song #12 made it to the Buddah album, but Ray later also produced a studio version of it for the album Renaissance. Tune #13 is a very raycharlesian 'dirty blues'-intro to What'd I Say, e.g. also known from the Soul Of The Holy Land-film from 1972.

The band's line-up was probably identical to the (still incomplete) personnel listing that I reconstructed (with the help of alumni from the Ray Charles Orchestra) for the concert on 8 July.

Musicians: Gregg Abate, James Clay, Leroy Cooper, [unknown], [unknown] - saxophone; Phil Guilbeau, Walter Miller, Tony Horowitz, [unknown] Tom Rheem* - trumpet; Ken Tussing, Craig Woods, Don Switzer, Glenn Childress, Fred Murrell - trombone; John Henderson - keyboards; Calvin Keys Harvey Sarch - guitar; Edgar Willis - bass; Bill McCullough - drums. The Raelettes: Vernita Moss, Susaye Greene, Mable John, Dorothy Berry, Estella Yarbrough.

* Information kindly provided by Harvey Sarch.

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