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19 August 2010

Ray Charles Is In Town - Chronology 1947 - 1948

Spring 1947
Writes arrangements for Joe Anderson.
Sent away after audition with Lucky Millinder.

Summer 1947
Goes to Tampa.
Meets Gossie (Gosady) D. McKee at Blue Room.

October 1947
Plays piano for Charlie Brantley's Honey Dippers.  
This source describes a photo of this group with Ray in it, possibly shot at a Ybor City honky tonk called the Cuban Patio.
Tours Florida with country band The Florida Playboys.
Lands regular job as singer/pianist at Skyhaven Club, working for the Manzy Harris Quartet.

Early 1948
Moves to Seattle.
Gigs at Black and Tan with Gossie McKee. 
Then at The New Chinatown, with Traf Hubert, Gerald Brashear, Big Dave Henderson, Jimmie Rodgers.
Gigs at Elks Club.
Buys a Clarion wire recorder. May have recorded Wondering And Wondering, Walking And Talking, Why Did You Go, and I Found My Baby There with that machine.
Joins the American Federation of Musicians, Local 76-493 (was still a dues-paying member at his death). 

Summer 1948
Gets the one-to-five-a.m. gig at The Rocking Chair, at $45 a night with Gossie McKee, pulling in Milton S. Garret on bass; calling it The McSon Trio.
Trio invests $15 in a fifteen minute pay-to-play slot on radio station KRSC, Saturdays at 4 p.m.
Also on KRSC tv, until 1949. See this, and read this.
The McSon Trio plays regularly at after-hours joints like the Washington Social Club, the Black & Tan, the 908 Club and the Rockin' Chair as well as more upscale gigs at hotels, the Elks and social organizations like the Seattle Tennis Club. 
 Earliest known photos of Ray (and trio) taken at KRSC; retouche artist later paints glasses (and eyes?!) on Ray's face.
Snagged from an exhibit at EMP, Seattle.

Still, taken from The Genius Of Soul documentary. Seems a bit different from the artwork of the first cover below. If Ray's shades were added by retouche, the original artist was good in it. Both  look as if they were airbrushed, later, by  the same artist.
It's hard to say what's authentic (the colors certainly aren't) in the artwork below, but the source must have been part of the same photo session (watch Ray's mustache):
 I scanned this photo from my copy of Paul De Barros, Jackson Street After Hours: The Roots Of Jazz In Seattle (Sasquatch Books, October 1993, ISBN-10: 0912365927), depicting trumpet player Floyd Standifer at the Trianon Ballroom in Seattle, in the Summer of 1948. Ray Charles expert Joël Dufour pointed me at the possibility that the piano player might be Ray Charles. Looking closer at  the perfect round form of the pianist's ear, his skinny ankles, and his glasses, I think Joël just might be right...
The Bumps Blackwell Band in c 1949 with Quincy Jones on trumpet and Buddy Catlett on tenor saxophone. Who is the guy sitting in between with his back towards the camera?
Outtake of photo above, in somewhat better quality.

In '48 Ray met Quincy Jones for the first time.
"We first met," Jones recalls, "at the bebop sessions in Seattle's red light district. The pattern was that we all played from 7 to 10 in supper clubs - you know, tunes like Room Full Of Roses with discreet cup mutes on the trumpets. Then at 10 o'clock we'd go to the black clubs - the Rocking Chair and the Black & Tan. And the Washington Educational & Social Club. That one always cracked me up. Proprietor, Rev. Silas Grove. He didn't have a liquor license. Everybody brought their own whiskey, and we'd go there for the strip dances and the comedians. Then, at 2 a.m., we'd all go to the Elks Club and play bebop for nothing. That's where everybody met, no matter what other gigs they had. That's where we really lived - in the music. What was the latest Bird tune, or Miles record? Or Dizzy's band would come through and we'd be out there to hear him. It was another world, and all we cared about was playing bebop."
Buys first Wurlitzer piano.
Bill Crow remembered some great stories in this interview by Jake D. Feinberg:

"Quincy Jones was going to High School in Seattle when I first met him. As soon as he found out I was a trombone player he said, "Hey I need one for this rehearsal band I got going." So I came over and he wrote a chart with a trombone solo in it, that was very nice.
I found out he was going over to this blind piano players house named "RC". He'd go over there after school and RC would show him chords and ways to harmonize standard tunes. Quincy would apply that to his own writing. "RC" of course was Ray Charles and at the time he had a little group called "The Maxim Trio." He was singing and playing piano trying to sound like Nat Cole.
Otis Blackwell had a little gig at a club in the black district of Seattle. RC was playing piano with him and once and awhile alto saxophone. [...].
In the afternoon after our rehearsal I would be digging in the bebop bins at the record shop. 
The girl behind the counter comes over and says, "You must be a musician because nobody else looks in those bins." That turned out to be Janet Thurlow who wound up becoming a singer and later married Jimmy Cleveland. She told me about The Washington Social Club and introduced me to Ray [Charles]. 
She said, "You have to hear him sing the blues!" She would call out, "RC, sing the blues!" He laid back and sang a wonderful blues and we were introduced afterwards and she said, "Why don't you sing like that all the time!"

Ray said, "Ahhh, where I come from everybody sings like that. You can't make a nickel singing like that."

November 1948
Intermission gig at weekend's concerts of Jackie McVea at Washington Social Club.
"Meanwhile, when McVea’s band returned to Seattle in 1948 they performed at Sy Groves’ Washington Social Club. Paul deBarro’s 1993 jazz history book, Jackson Street Afterhours, quotes local jazz bassist, Wyatt “Bull” Ruther, recalling that during this period: “If you couldn’t play the blues, you couldn’t play in Seattle. That was during the time when the smaller bands would be patterning themselves after Louis Jordan’s band. There was Jack McVea and his ‘Open The Door, Richard.’ Everybody did that one. You had to entertain.” 
The trio that was hired to open this 1948 McVea show was new on the Seattle scene, having just been formed by two cats fresh in town from the south – guitarist Garcia McKee & a blind young pianist/singer, Ray Robinson – who’d hired a bassist, Milt Garred, through Seattle’s “Negro Musicians’ Union” AFM Local # 493. McVea was quite impressed by the Maxin Trio & later, when back in Los Angeles, he mentioned them to black record executive, Jack Lauderdale. 
Long-story-short, within weeks Lauderdale raced up to Seattle, heard the trio, quickly took them into a downtown studio, & produced what would be the very first bluesy disc ever cut in Seattle and released commercially – “Confession Blues” – which was issued on his Down Beat label. By ’49 Lauderdale was convinced that it was the singer he really wanted to work with, & after the young musician adopted his first and middle names as a new stage name – Ray Charles – he went on to global fame as the “Genius of Soul.” For his part, McVea carried on, recording for Black & White, and touring the “chitlin’ circuit” with his newly renamed band: Jack McVea & His Door Openers." (Source here).

December 1948
First meeting with Jack Lauderdale of Down Beat Records.
There is a story that the recording (without any contract) of I Love You, I Love You / Confession Blues took place in this month, but most sources say it was in February 1949.
"Ray Charles" becomes the artist's name.

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