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25 July 2010

Ray Charles Ft. In Blowin' The Blues Away Concert At The Apollo (2003)

The U.S. Congress declared 2003 as The Year of the Blues, and in celebration of that Ray Charles, Eric Clapton, Lou Donaldson, B.B. King, Audra McDonald, Willie Nelson, Carrie Smith, and The Wynton Marsalis Septet gathered together at New York City's Apollo Theater for Blowin' The Blues Away, a part of Jazz at Lincoln Center's second annual spring gala.
The concert was conceived by Wynton Marsalis as a kind of staged documentary on the history and the role of the blues as an integral part of American life and culture (Geoffrey Ward wrote the script). The event was hosted by Laurence Fishburne.
A newly commissioned work by Wynton Marsalis featuring all of the night's performers premiered. The concert was followed by a dinner held in a tented space behind the theatre. Proceeds from the concert benefited the educational programs produced by Jazz at Lincoln Center.
A Clapton fan site aggregated 3 reviews.

Kelefa Sanneh (New York Times, 5 June 2003) wrote:
[…] On Monday night the Apollo Theater held a concert that took its shape from the most vibrant expression of the blues today: the television documentary.
The concert […] succeeded, thanks in large part to the star performer, Laurence Fishburne, whose smooth, rich voice evoked the great voice-over narrators of old. If you sat back in your seat and closed your eyes, it was easy to feel as if you'd been transported . . . to your own sofa, in front of the television set.
The soundtrack was supplied by the Wynton Marsalis Septet, which nimbly brought to life blues and blues-inflected pieces from throughout the century. […].
Out came Eric Clapton, strapping on an acoustic guitar for a charming, spindly version of Louis Armstrong's I'm Not Rough, and no one laughed when he moaned, 'It takes a brown-skinned woman to satisfy my mind.' (When Mr. Clapton was done, Mr. Fishburne assured the audience that the blues, they belong to everyone).
Out came B.B King, who did more mugging than playing, and who didn't seem totally comfortable collaborating with Mr. Marsalis's jazz band; he seemed a bit more comfortable when Mr. Marsalis brought out Mr. Clapton for the inevitable duet.
Out came Ray Charles, who contributed the night's most bizarre solo, bending notes on a keyboard to imitate a guitar; Mr. Marsalis could only chuckle and shake his head.
And out came Willie Nelson, clutching his battered guitar, mumbling his way through a marvelously casual version of Night Life.
[…] In deference, perhaps, to the old tradition of public television, there were no commercials, although halfway through, Mr. Fishburne preached a blustery blues sermon (written by Stanley Crouch) that might have been the perfect time for a bathroom break.
The overall effect was entertaining but also dizzying; with so many performers squeezed into a little over an hour, the concert often felt like one long montage. […]
A Reuters critic wrote:
All 14 hours of the upcoming PBS miniseries The Blues may not do half as good a job of illustrating the history of the musical form as this stunning benefit concert at the historic Apollo Theater for Jazz at Lincoln Center.
[…] Blowin' the Blues Away was that rare black-tie musical evening in which every aspect came together beautifully. […].
Clapton, playing acoustic guitar, paid homage to his original inspirations with heartfelt renditions of I'm Not Rough (playing the Lonnie Johnson part from the original Louis Armstrong and the Hot Fives recording) and Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out.
Nelson did a version of Night Life featuring a nicely jazzed-up arrangement showcasing Marsalis' septet, and Wills' Milk Cow Blues, a standout from Nelson's recent blues-oriented release.
King sang The Thrill Is Gone, somehow managing to make the ever-familiar anthem seem utterly fresh, and, to the thrill of the crowd, duetted with Clapton on Ev'ry Day (I Have the Blues).
Finally, Charles somehow managed to magically make his keyboard sound like an electric guitar during his pair of numbers. [...].
Dan Aquilante of the New York Post wrote:
[…]. Sizing up the English six-string slinger, the rubber-faced King joked, 'Just because you're younger, better-looking and play better, you think you can just sit down and play?' Clapton, naturally shy, took his shot: 'Aw, B.B., you're not that much older than me.' With the gauntlet thrown down, the two axmen commenced to chop a chord of blues.
King is incomparable for his passionate, stinging electric style, while Clapton is a technical genius who has speed, accuracy and a huge musical vocabulary. Alone, each is terrific; together, they are magnificent. That wasn't lost on Wynton Marsalis and his jazz septet, who backed King and Clapton, or the audience, for that matter. When they played Every Day I Have the Blues, there was no doubt this was a showdown. So who won? The audience that was lucky enough to witness this historic matchup.
This was an unusual blues concert because it examined the orchestral blues of founding fathers W.C. Handy, Jelly Roll Morton and Duke Ellington. Unlike the raw delta variety or the more modern Chicago styles of blues, this was the music that eventually evolved into jazz. Bop alto sax man Lou Donaldson demonstrated that while conjuring the ghost of Charlie Parker.
Nelson might seem a weird choice for a blues concert, but he connected the dots between the blues and country. Willie's reedy tenor was bold, offering fine counterpoint to his extremely gentle six-string attack. More than any other artist on the bill, Nelson had rapport with the audience and Marsalis' band.
Only Ray Charles came close to that kind of intimacy with the house. In the finale slot, he offered a pair of very old-fashioned blues numbers that harkened back to Professor Longhair. During the piano rolls of Hang Around Blues [maybe to be identified Worried Life Blues? BS], house pianist Richard Johnson (who was excellent throughout the night), like an eager kid at school, strained to watch Charles' ancient fingers fly across the keyboard. […]
The Reuters archive (ID 8488/03; Ref: 306020043) has a 3m5s news item, taped on 2 June 2003, that first aired on 3 June. Source here.

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