Ray Charles: Live in France 1961

Ray Charles live in 1961 at the height of his powers

1961 was a banner year for Ray Charles. The crossover seeds he’d sewn with Atlantic on 1959’s The Genius of Ray Charles had led him to bigger bands and orchestras and a contract with ABC. In 1960 he’d notched his first #1 on the pop chart with a cover of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia on My Mind,” and by 1961 the demand for his concert appearances finally brought him to Europe, where he headlined the second-annual Antibes Jazz Festival in southeastern France. Charles performed four dates with the classic lineup of his octet, featuring Hank Crawford (alto sax), David “Fathead” Newman (tenor sax and flute), Leroy Cooper (baritone sax), Phillip Guilbeau (trumpet), John Hunt (trumpet), Edgar Willis (bass), Bruno Carr (drums) and the Raelettes (Gwen Berry, Margie Hendrix, Pat Lyles and Darlene McCrea).

The two full dates captured here – July 18th and 22nd – split their set lists between earlier titles recorded for Atlantic and then recent sides for ABC. The two sets repeat a few titles (“Let the Good Times Roll,” “Georgia on My Mind,” “Sticks and Stones” and crowd-rousing versions of Charles’ first crossover hit, “What’d I Say”), but also add unique titles, including a swinging take of Charles then-current Latin-rhythm single “One Mint Julep” a celebratory performance of “Hallelujah, I Love Her So” (with Newman stepping to the front for a short solo), and a cover of Nat King Cole’s “With You On My Mind.” The band’s instrumental tunes give Charles an opportunity to show off his considerable talent as a pianist, and the fluidity with which the shows move between jazz, blues, R&B, gospel and pop is mesmerizing.

The two sets are augmented by six bonus performances culled from shows on the 19th and 21st, bringing the total program to a satisfying 105 minutes. Originally filmed (not videotaped) for French public television, these performances have been unseen for nearly fifty years. The black-and-white footage is neatly edited, with interesting close-ups of the instrumentalists and images of the sunglasses-wearing cigarette-smoking audience. The audio is crisp, well-balanced mono with only a few inconsequential artifacts, including Charles’ enthusiastic foot stomping rattling his microphone stand on “Let the Good Times Roll.” This is a terrific archival discovery and a must-see for Ray Charles fans! [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

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