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06 May 2010

Ray Charles At Carnegie Hall & On Voice Of America (1957)

The flyer for the Carnegie Hall concert. 

Does somebody from Russia remember hearing Ray Charles in a live concert, over Voice Of America, in 1957?
The historians involved in the historic find described below and in the release of some of the tapes believe that the materials were "possibly" broadcast.*

Voice of America (VOA) is the US government shortwave-radio service that broadcast news and music overseas, and often was used for propaganda purposes behind the Iron Curtain. It sometimes featured concert recordings (later they also went into TV broadcasting).
In 1963 the Library of Congress acquired approximately 50,000 tapes and discs of cultural programming, including jazz, from Voice of America. In 2005 the LoC finalized a project to digitize and catalog this collection. The supervisor of the Library's Magnetic Recording Laboratory thumbed through some tapes awaiting digitization in early 2005 when he noticed eight 10-inch acetate reels of a tape labeled Carnegie Hall Jazz 1957.
This double set of concerts, from Friday 29 November 1957, was a benefit for the Morningside Community Center. Willis Conover was the M.C. at the concert and the (intended) host of the radio program. The first show started at 8:30, the second one was at midnight.
A newspaper ad for the Carnegie Hall concert.

The line-up was awesome (the two shows differed in the order of events, and not all musicians performed during both concerts): The Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane, The Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra with Lee Morgan and Benny Golson; Ray Charles with his 'small big band' sextet (with Ed Blackwell on drums); The Zoot Sims Quartet with Mose Allison on piano and guest Chet Baker; Sonny Rollins, in a trio with bassist Wendell Marshall and drummer Kenny Dennis; and Billie Holiday (the only one who was not recorded, possibly because of record contract issues).
This is how Sonny Rollins looked back on the event (he later decided not to release his 1957 Carnegie concert):

Some of the VoA tapes have been issued as Thelonious Monk With John Coltrane: 1957 Concert. The quality of the recordings is excellent. “I think it's the best recorded Monk on the best piano he ever played,” a critic said. Newsweek called it the "musical equivalent of the discovery of a new Mount Everest", and Lloyd Sachs called it "the ultimate definition of a classic". Soon after its release, it became the #1 best selling music recording on Amazon.

I do believe that the Monk/Coltrane concert is the biggest find in the VoA collection. But for me the historical importance of Charles' concert potentially is as big. I found a small article in Billboard from 2 days before the concert, to illustrate this. It announced: “[…] as a special guest star, pianist-blues warbler Ray Charles. This will be Charles' first concert appearance as a jazz artist.”

Ray Charles performed at both concerts. The set lists were:

Carnegie Hall jazz concert, early show (LoC ID 2005650077; RAA 29215-RAA 29219; MAVIS title no.: 195568):
  1. C Jam Blues 
  2. Dancing In The Dark 
  3. [Unidentified selection] 
  4. Hallelujah I Love Her So 
  5. I Want A Little Girl 
This announcement in Billboard
of November 25 actually
confirms that the tapings
were earmarked for
worldwide rebroadcasts
by Voice of America.
Carnegie Hall jazz concert, late show (LoC ID 2005650078; RAA 29220-RAA 29222; MAVIS title no.: 195598):
  1. Doodlin’
  2. Undecided
  3. Hallelujah I Love Her So
  4. I Want A Little Girl 
Numbers 1 and 2 (and possibly also #3) of the early set were never recorded elsewhere, as far as I know.

David Newman - tenor sax; Leroy Cooper - baritone sax; Walter Miller, Ricky Harper - trumpets; Edgar Willis - bass; Edward Blackwell - drums; Ray Charles - piano and vocals.

Both concerts were recorded by Harry Hochberg. Other sources about the VOA find are here, here and here.

The New York Times of 30 November had the concert reviewed by John S. Wilson:
*This post is largely based on an excellent little essay by Lewis Potter, Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane: Evidence, in JazzTimes, from October 2005.

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