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27 February 2012

A Lost Apollo Concert Taping From 1960 (With Clark Terry In The Orchestra)

In 1960 two writers of French jazz magazines came to New York to report about Ray Charles, preparing the ground for his triumphant concerts in Antibes in the summer of 1961 (and both possibly sponsored by Vega, the French distributor of Ray's records?). Franck Ténot published a well known article in the December 1960 issue of Jazz Magazine (titled Lumières Sur Ray Charles, or 'Spotlights On Ray Charles'), with a brief description of a concert he witnessed in New York, and an extensive, expert discography).

Recently I was made aware, by two readers of this blog, of an interesting paragraph in a lesser known article by François Postif (titled In Jazz Time), in the November 1960 issue of Jazz Hot, where he describes how he taped a Ray Charles concert at the Apollo.
While reading that article, I found proof for a second interesting footnote to Ray's "live" career: his first documented live performance with a big band.

The lost tape
Postif wrote a nice, be it highly subjective and not so expert, story on his visit to the Apollo (apart from Georgia, he couldn't name any of the other tunes he reported on).
"And His Big 16-Men Orch."
Postif visited one of the concerts during Ray's second, hugely successful, stint at the Apollo that year, a 2-week heldover from 30 September to 13 October. 'Heldovers' were extremely rare. (The first 1960 engagement had been in April, co-billed with Cannonball Adderley).
The New York Amsterdam News wrote on October 8 that "Apollo Theatre management had to stop Ray Charles from doing extra shows to satisfy his fans crowding the theatre to hear him. They feared he'd wear himself out. He's there an extra week...", and "At the height of his popularity, the Apollo had to cancel the movie several times over the weekend while Ray did extra shows to accommodate the huge crowds." (The Apollo at that time presented up to 5 full shows each day - starting at 11 a.m., until midnight - but in cases like this, they were able to increase the number of scheduled shows to 7 per day).

"What to say about Ray Charles that hasn't already been said," Postif wrote, rhetorically, "he presents himself at his small electric piano [...], and sings his success of the moment, Georgia (On My Mind). It's delirious. I was lucky to have the transistor tape recorder with me, that I brought back from Italy [...] and I am listening again to the tape as I write this article. [Ray] really caresses the melody of Georgia, accompanied on flute by one of the musicians of the orchestra."

Ray Charles expert Joël Dufour has tried to check if the tape still exists, but the sad conclusion of his research was that it must be considered to be definitively lost.

The "Apollo Big Band"
It's well documented that Ray Charles formed his first, so called "temporary", big band in April 1961 with the help of Quincy Jones. This band only went on a 3-week Hal Zeigler tour, with concerts in a.o. St. Louis, Detroit, Cleveland, and Chicago, ending at Carnegie Hall in New York.
But I recently found some reproductions of promotion materials for the October 1960 Apollo program that riddled me because they explicitly announced "His [i.e. Ray's] Big 16-Men Orch[estra]".

Ad in NY Amsterdam News.
Ray's French record distributor Vega
heavily promoted his Antibes concerts in '61.
I think Postif's article gives some keys to solve this riddle. When he describes how he enters the Apollo Theatre, he writes "While I walk into the hall [I hear] a familiar voice singing a song that I know, it's Dee Clark, interpreting Hey Little Girl. [...] It's a big orchestra that accompanies him, sixteen musicians, amongst whom I recognize Clark Terry, who wears a majestic and highly spiritual beard, Henderson Chambers and David 'Fathead' Newman, the excellent sax player of Ray Charles."
A little later, describing Ray's overall performance, he reveals that "The versions he sings are much longer than on his records, but the orchestra is so developed (it is the same line-up, so to say, which accompanied The Coasters and Dee Clark, with Clark Terry), that it gives the same impression of perfection that emerges from the records [...]."

These snippets of information seem to imply that Ray for this occasion had formed something like a very-first-proto-temporary big band, bringing in his own sextet (or at least David Newman; plus trombone player Henderson Chambers, who would also be part of the early 1961 big band), and enhancing the line-up with Clark Terry, and maybe with other, more regular Apollo side men - and that this "Big 16-Men Orchestra" also took the role of  an 'Apollo House Band', not only accompanying Ray Charles during his part of the program, but also backing the other class acts, like The Coasters, and Dee Clark. (Such a double role for big bands was not unusual at the Apollo).
My conclusion for now is that there certainly must have been a 16-man band backing Ray, and that it's certainly not improbable that Ray's own sextet was part of that for this occasion (although it's a bit suspect that Postif then didn't name David Fathead Newman as "the flute player" in the rendition of Georgia that he described). Although I doubt if Postif was 'connoisseur' enough to recognize Clark Terry 'behind', as he wrote, 'a majestic beard'... - the more since Terry's name at the time was big enough to be credited in the promotion materials for the show - it's not impossible that Terry took this gig (he had played the Apollo many times before in the 1950s), or even that Quincy helped him to get the assignment from his friend Ray after their (Q's and Terry's) penniless return from their own big band adventures in Europe..., or even that this was the first occasion where Quincy could try out the big band chart of Georgia (with flute!), which he penned on Ray's special request...

One thing is 100% sure in this context: Quincy Jones hired Clark to "contract the date" (i.e. to choose the musicians) for the recording of Ray's album Genius + Soul = Jazz, on 26 and 27 December 1960.

Special thanks to J.P. Verger for providing me with copies of the articles.

1 comment :

  1. I was in the Army at Ft Devens, Mass. and would go the New York on some weekends. I saw in the newspaper
    that Ray Charles was going to be at the Apollo. I was very aware of the Apollo and was a R&B fan. WHAT I wasn't aware of it that it was in Harlem. I took the subway to the nearest stop, go off, and found
    the theater. The show was already in progress as I entered. The lights were off and I found a
    seat right about dead center of the audience. When the lights came up at intermission, I found to
    my surprise, and to a few hundred others that I was the lone white person within miles! It was a bit
    uncomfortable, but I remember thinking how a person of color must feel in an all white crowd (especially
    in that time period). Always remember Ray Charles and the Coasters. Al Ludlow (Al_ludlow@yahoo.com)

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