MUSIC CLIP - OSCAR PETERSON, "MOONGLOW"
Welcome to Afterglow, I’m your host, Mark Chilla.
This week, my spotlight is on the genius Ray Charles. Charles was an American icon who helped popularize soul music in the 1950s. But Charles also had this amazing ability to transform any song that he sung—whether it was jazz, blues, pop, or even country—making us hear it with fresh ears. And one genre where Charles made his indelible mark was on the Tin Pan Alley standards of the Great American Songbook, including timeless songs like “Come Rain Or Come Shine,” “Over The Rainbow,” or “Georgia On My Mind.” That’s what I’ll focus on this hour.
It’s Brother Ray Sings Standards, coming up next on Afterglow.
MUSIC - RAY CHARLES AND BETTY CARTER, "EV'RY TIME WE SAY GOODBYE"
Ray Charles and jazz singer Betty Carter in 1961 with Cole Porter’s song “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye.” That comes from their album for ABC records called “Ray Charles and Betty Carter”, featuring the Jack Halloran Singers and arrangements by Marty Paich.
MUSIC CLIP - RAY CHARLES AND MILT JACKSON, "HALLELUJAH, I LOVE HER SO"
Mark Chilla here on Afterglow. Ray Charles is our focus this hour, exploring his marvelous interpretations of Tin Pan Alley standards.
Charles’s career stretched for over 50 years, and his repertoire was as diverse as anyone in American popular music. He drew equally from blues standards, current rhythm and blues hits, country music of the past and present, his own original soulful songs, and Tin Pan Alley jazz and pop standards.
For anyone who knows a little bit about Brother Ray’s background, it comes as no surprise that he would be drawn to the Great American Songbook. One of his biggest influences was Nat King Cole, a singer and songwriter whose own diverse output drew heavily from jazz and pop standards.
MUSIC CLIP - NAT KING COLE, "IT'S ONLY A PAPER MOON"
Some of Charles’s earliest recordings from the late 1940s and early 1950s, in fact, sounded like imitations of Nat King Cole
MUSIC CLIP - RAY CHARLES, "DON'T PUT ALL YOUR DREAMS IN ONE BASKET"
Ray Charles’s earliest successes came for the Atlantic label starting around the mid 1950s. It was here that he began to evoke his other big influence—R&B singer Charles Brown—creating a unique R&B sound consisting mostly of his own original songs.
MUSIC CLIP - RAY CHALRES, "AIN'T THAT LOVE"
For about the next five years, Charles recorded some of the most quintessential R&B recordings from the 1950s, laying the groundwork for the genre that would eventually be called soul.
During the stretch recording for Atlantic, jazz and pop standards played almost no role in his output. In 1957, he did release an album of mostly jazz standards, but it was an all instrumental album, featuring Ray showing off his piano skills.
MUSIC CLIP - RAY CHARLES, "UNDECIDED"
In 1958, jazz standards did begin to slowly creep into his vocal repertoire, but still performed in an R&B style. One of the first was the 1941 Sy Oliver swing tune “Yes, Indeed,” first sung by people like Jo Stafford and Bing Crosby.
Let’s hear Ray Charles’s take on that classic tune now. This is Ray Charles in 1958 with the Sy Oliver tune “Yes, Indeed!,” on Afterglow
MUSIC - RAY CHARLES, “YES, INDEED!”
Ray Charles in 1958, with his bluesy version of the 1941 Sy Oliver tune “Yes, Indeed.”
1959 was a pivotal year for Ray Charles. Not only was it the year that he recorded the groundbreaking R&B tune “What’d I Say”...
MUSIC CLIP - RAY CHALRES, "WHAT'D I SAY"
...but it was also the year that he pushed himself in a completely different direction, making another groundbreaking recording, but for a different reason. That year, he recorded the album The Genius Of Ray Charles, which featured Charles performing mostly jazz standards in a lush pop style that you might expect from someone like Frank Sinatra. The A-side of the record featured mostly up-tempo numbers, supplemented by some of the top jazz players from Count Basie and Duke Ellington’s bands, with arrangements by Quincy Jones. On the B-side, he included a string section, with arrangements by Ralph Burns.
At the time, critics were surprised and a little put off by this new direction, criticizing Ray Charles for abandoning his home turf of R&B for middle-of-the-road pop. This was the same way they criticized Nat King Cole a decade earlier, when he focused less on jazz and more on richly arranged pop tunes. But in the decades since, The Genius Of Ray Charles has been seen as a triumph, and Charles has been praised for breathing new life into old songs, giving these songs a soul that other performers couldn’t capture.
Let’s hear a track from each of those sides now, beginning with a jazzier number from side A. This is Ray Charles in 1959 with the 1924 Gus Kahn and Isham Jones song “It Had To Be You,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - RAY CHARLES, “IT HAD TO BE YOU”
MUSIC - RAY CHARLES, “COME RAIN OR COME SHINE”
From the 1959 album The Genius Of Ray Charles. That was a classic version of the Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer song “Come Rain Or Come Shine” and the Gus Kahn and Isham Jones song “It Had To Be You.”
The Genius of Ray Charles became the singer’s first top 40 album, and shortly after its release, Ray Charles’s contract with Atlantic had expired. He ended up signing with ABC-Paramount, which not only gave him a lot more money, but also a lot more creative control. At thirty years old, Charles had decided to mostly abandon writing original R&B songs to focus on other creative endeavors. This meant recording more instrumental jazz and blues albums, and recording more pop albums featuring orchestral arrangements and jazz standards.
The first album he recorded for ABC-Paramount was The Genius Hits The Road, a concept album of all jazz and blue standards featuring the names of U.S. locations. That included songs like Al Jolson’s “California Here I Come,” Louis Armstrong’s “Basin Street Blues,” Harry Warren’s “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” and of course, Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia On My Mind.”
Charles’s version of the state song of his home state became iconic, earning him two Grammy awards and more critical acclaim and commercial success.
Let’s hear it now. This is Ray Charles in 1960 with his definitive version of “Georgia On My Mind,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - RAY CHARLES, “GEORGIA ON MY MIND”
Ray Charles with his iconic version of Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrel’s song “Georgia On My Mind.” That comes from the 1960 ABC-Paramount album The Genius Hits The Road.
After the success of “Georgia On My Mind” and the album The Genius Hits The Road, the music of the Great American Songbook became a crucial part of Ray Charles’s output. Not only did it provide him with some new creative outlets, these recordings were also commercially successful. For the next forty years, Charles would add jazz standards to his repertoire, with music from the Great American Songbook even showing up on his final recording session in 2004.
On this particular episode, I’ll only be playing some of his recordings from the 50s and 60s. Perhaps I’ll go deeper into his catalog of standards on a later episode. For now, let’s take a look at some jazz standards he recorded soon after the album The Genius Hits The Road. These recordings both come from albums he recorded in 1961. In just a moment, we’ll hear a duet he recorded with jazz singer Betty Carter. But first, here’s a recording from the album called Dedicated To You, another concept album of all songs featuring the names of women.
This is Ray Charles in 1961 with the Jimmy Van Heusen and Phil Silvers song “Nancy (With The Laughing Face)” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - RAY CHARLES, "NANCY (WITH THE LAUGHING FACE)"
MUSIC - RAY CHARLES AND BETTY CARTER, "PEOPLE WILL SAY WE'RE IN LOVE"
Ray Charles and Betty Carter from their album together, and the Rodgers and Hammerstein song “People Will Say We’re In Love.” And first in that set, a song made famous by Frank Sinatra, “Nancy (With The Laughing Face).” That’s also from the album Dedicated To You.
MUSIC CLIP - RAY CHARLES AND MILT JACKSON, "SOUL MEETING"
In just a bit, we’ll hear more standards as sung by Brother Ray Charles. Stay with us.
I’m Mark Chilla, and you’re listening to Afterglow
MUSIC CLIP - RAY CHARLES AND MILT JACKSON, "SOUL BROTHERS"
MUSIC CLIP - RAY CHARLES, "AIN'T MISBEHAVIN'"
Welcome back to Afterglow, I’m Mark Chilla. We’re taking a look at jazz standards as sung by the genius Ray Charles in the 1950s and 60s this hour. After the success of pop albums like The Genius of Ray Charles from 1959 and The Genius Hits The Road in 1960, where Charles breathed new life into old music from the Great American Songbook, Charles took another daring swing for the fences.
In 1962, Charles added his iconic sound to a genre that many considered to be off limits to black musicians: country music.
MUSIC CLIP - RAY CHARLES, "YOU DON'T KNOW ME"
In a way, Charles set out to prove that these country songs at their core were not that much different in structure and style as any of the great pop songs—they just happened to have a little more twang. The result with the landmark album Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music. It was another triumph for Ray Charles, and he completely transformed our understanding of many of these songs. For instance, his versions of many of these songs became more iconic than the originals, so you’d probably be forgiven if you didn’t realize a song like “You Don’t Know Me,” was originally a country tune written by Eddy Arnold.
MUSIC CLIP - EDDY ARNOLD, "YOU DON'T KNOW ME"
Now, by definition, none of the songs on this album are jazz standards. They are modern country songs. However, there is one traditional song that shows up, which you might call an American standard, the song “Careless Love.” It’s a blues-based song that dates back to the 19th century, performed by country artists, blues artists, jazz artists, and pop artists alike. Let’s hear Ray Charles’s treatment of it now.
This is Ray Charles from the 1962 album Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music with “Careless Love,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - RAY CHARLES, “CARELESS LOVE”
Ray Charles seemed to hit upon a formula for success at ABC-Paramount, opening him up to wider audiences and more money. Adding his unique soulful voice to established standards with orchestral arrangements was something he kept returning to on the next several albums—in fact, he did this off and on for the next several decades. His follow up album was a second volume of Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music. That was followed by more soulful takes on the Great American Songbook with the 1963 album Ingredients In A Recipe For Soul, combining these songs with elements of his gospel roots.
I’ll play for you some tracks from that album now. First, this is Ray Charles with Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein’s “Ol’ Man River,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - RAY CHARLES, “OL’ MAN RIVER”
MUSIC - RAY CHARLES, “OVER THE RAINBOW”
MUSIC - RAY CHARLES, “GUESS I’LL HANG MY TEARS OUT TO DRY”
From the 1964 concept album Sweet and Sour Tears. That was Ray Charles with the Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne tune “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry.” Before that, two songs from the album Ingredients In A Recipe For Soul, Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg’s “Over The Rainbow” and Kern and Hammerstein’s “Ol’ Man River.” Both of those songs featured the Jack Halloran singers and were arranged by Marty Paich.
Towards the end of the 1960s, critics and audiences alike seemed to grow a bit tired of the middle-of-the-road pop aspirations of Ray Charles. Perhaps it was because the soul music that he helped to create nearly a decade earlier was growing in popularity, with new artists like Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding taking over a genre that Charles seemed to abandon. As a result, Charles began to slowly incorporate more R&B back into his sound. He recorded new songs by R&B songwriter Percy Mayfield, who penned “Hit The Road Jack,” and he even took jazz standards and gave them the R&B treatment, like he did way back in the late 1950s.
I’ll close off this show with one more song. This comes from Ray Charles’s 1966 album Ray’s Moods. It’s a tune made popular by Doris Day in 1945, but Ray does not sound like Day.
Here’s Ray Charles with “Sentimental Journey,” on Afterglow.
RAY CHARLES - “SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY”
Ray Charles in 1966 with his bluesy take on the old pop standard “Sentimental Journey.”
And thanks for taking a look at some standards sung by Ray Charles on Afterglow.
MUSIC CLIP - RAY CHARLES, "THE MAN I LOVE"
Afterglow is part of the educational mission of Indiana University and produced by WFIU Public Radio in beautiful Bloomington, Indiana. The executive producer is John Bailey.
Playlists for this and other Afterglow programs are available on our website. That’s at indianapublicmedia.org/afterglow.
I’m Mark Chilla, and join me next week for our mix of Vocal Jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook, here on Afterglow.