Eagle Vision has issued an amazing and important DVD by Ray Charles Live in France 1961. This was filmed over four nights during Charles’ first to Europe when he played a Jazz Festival outside of Antibes on the Cote d’Azur and marked a departure in that he brought his big little band as opposed to the larger big band he was touring with in the United States. There is an excellent video of Charles in Brazil from a couple years later that shows The Genius in his prime with the full big band.
With Charles and his piano, we hear the legendary saxophone trio of Hank Crawford, David ‘Fathead’ Newman, and Leroy ‘Hog’ Cooper along with trumpeters Philip Guilbeau and John Hunt; bassist Edgar Willis and drummer Bruno Carr. And also present were the Raelettes of Gwen Berry, Margie Hendrix, Pat Lyles and Darlene McCrea. This was the essentially Ray’s Band during his years at Atlantic Records and the chance to see this band (which was the band on Ray’s live Atlantic Recordings) makes this particular DVD special.
The performances are taken from French television programs of highlights from the Festival and as the folks from Reelin’ In The Years Productions observe, this was filmed not taped which helps explain the excellent video quality. However film, not used after cutting and splicing of source material, was discarded so the 105 minutes which includes multiple performances of several songs is all there is. Radio recordings of the entire shows existed that allowed rearranging the clips from the festival highlights into the performance order and provide superior sound.
The performances include the jazzy instrumentals including renditions James Moody’s The Story, Horace Silver’s Doodlin’, and his instrumental take of One Mint Julep, here played on piano and not organ. Then there are stellar renditions of Let the Good Times Roll, Georgia On My Mind (with Fathead Newman on flute), Sticks and Stones and What’d I Say.” Does anybody need to have me say what a great band this was and that the members get showcased throughout. The filming did have the great Charles’ vocals and piano front and center while focusing on the horns during their solos. Listening and watching how effortlessly he moves from a ballad like Cecil Gant’s classic ballad, I Wonder, to the vocal interchange with Margie Hendrix who admonishes him to Tell The Truth, one is awestruck even 50 years later. Similarly one is amazed watching Charles jazz up My Bonnie, and while getting down for the nitty gritty for I Believe.
Few performers were so at home and so expressive at performing such a wide range of music. This DVD presents Charles at his greatest and in addition to the terrific production, there is a booklet with Rob Bowman’s essay providing the context for these performances. This is a stellar DVD that should be of interest to many.
I received a review copy from a publicist for this release. I will be reviewing a box set of the Complete Ray Charles ABC singles in the near future.