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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
The death of Ray Charles, marks the end of an era!

Many don't know that he was as good a sax player as Hank Crawford and most others he surrounded himself with (when he was relatively straight)

He was an enormous influence on a generation of singers, players and arrangers.

I'm bummed!
 

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another great loss, wonder how much news coverage it will get.

I remember watching a documentary several years back, some of the Raylettes saying, if you wanted to be a Raylette, you had to 'let Ray." ;-) that and the story about the time he drove a corvette, I think it was in Vegas...

good stuff...
Keep Honkin!
 

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Many don't know that he was as good a sax player as Hank Crawford and most others he surrounded himself with (when he was relatively straight)
:oops: :oops:

:evil: I totally disagree with that statement! That's ridiculous!
Ray was ok on the sax but he wasn't any where near as good as Hank Crawford or David "Fathead" Newman or Don Wilkerson or Bennie Wallace. Didn't even come close! :!: :!:
 

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billmecca.com said:
...wonder how much news coverage it will get.
Front page photo and 15 cm. column here (Die Rheinpfalz Zeitung).
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
King,

I suppose I meant he "Could" play as well, but the notion is still hardly "ridiculous"!

I would certainly exclude Newman from my list, but it would depend on what you are listening for when it comes to Crawford etc.

Ray Charles had little technical facility when on H and as I understand it, he was always on H, but the musical ideas are there, and they are superior to those of Crawford in spite of their sloppy execution! Crawford's flaw seems to be in editing himself. The inter-mixing of cool and corny requires a master's touch!

One man's "ridiculous" is another man's reason for living!
 

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Spaz,
You have your opinion, I have mine. That's what makes the world interesting.
Brother Ray was a GREAT piano player , entertainer and singer who played sax occasionally.
Hank Crawford is a IMHO Great sax player. His tone, ideas and facility are IMHO far superior on sax than Ray's.
I enjoyed listening to Ray on sax on the 2 records I have heard him play it, "Live aT Newport" and 1 other that I can't remember.
Hank Crawford is another story, he is someone that many people consider to be an inspiration, myself included.
May Ray rest in peace.
 

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Here's an article I picked up on the web. I was wrong about Bennie Wallace, his name is Bennie Crawford (that's Bennie "Hank" Crawford).
:D
THE SAXMEN Even a certified genius couldn't have amassed a legacy so dazzling and far-reaching all by his lonesome. Marvelous musicians by the score have spent extended quality time in Ray Charles' legendary bands, including trumpeters John Hunt, Marcus Belgrave, and Phil Guilbeau, bassist Edgar "The Peeper" Willis, and drummers Milt Turner and Bruno Carr. But three master saxophonists rank as the most illustrious alumni of all.

David "Fathead" Newman, Hank Crawford, and Leroy "Hog" Cooper all joined Ray's combo as baritone saxists, though only Cooper lingered in the bari chair for long. Newman switched to tenor and quickly blossomed as Ray's principal sax soloist. Crawford moved to alto and assumed the title of musical director. Encouraged wholeheartedly by their benevolent boss, Newman and Crawford soon developed into jazz giants themselves.

DAVID "FATHEAD" NEWMAN

Alto sax was David Newman's first true love. Growing up in Dallas, he was mesmerized by jump blues pioneer Louis Jordan and picked up the horn in the seventh grade. Buster Smith -- a veteran of Count Basie's torrid Kansas City crews of the 1930s -- was Newman's early sax mentor, and the youth learned his lessons pronto. "I always concentrated on trying to get a sound, and particularly trying to have a sound of my own and a style of playing of my own," explains Newman, who earned his "Fathead" handle by botching a musical scale in school.

During the early 1950s Newman hooked up with pianist Lloyd Glenn's combo and hit the road. He made his studio bow in 1952, blowing alto behind Zuzu Bollin on the T-Bone Walker-inspired guitarist's ribald "Why Don't You Eat Where You Slept Last Night" for the tiny Torch label. His section mate was none other than Leroy Cooper. The two played in similar tandem behind guitarist Lowell Fulson on his '54 Checker Records classic, "Reconsider Baby," which was also waxed in Dallas.

By then Newman was already well acquainted with Ray Charles. "I had met Ray in early '51," remembers Newman. "He was FEATUREd playing piano and singing with the Lowell Fulson band, and I was playing with the Lloyd Glenn group.

"On this particular package, they had Lowell Fulson, T-Bone Walker, Big Joe Turner, and Lloyd Glenn. It was a big package tour mostly through the South, playing one-nighters, and then we also came back East. That was when I first met Ray. We hit it off. We immediately became very close, because I greatly admired the way he played. I suppose I had something that he enjoyed. We enjoyed playing with each other.

"He mentioned that he was going to be starting a band pretty soon," says Newman. "So I told him whenever he did start his band that I would love to play with him. I heard from him again around '52, and I did some single engagements with him before he formed his band. And then later in '54 when he formed his group, I went up to California and met Ray."

The saxman couldn't have chosen a more opportune time to join forces with Charles. Ray's gospel/blues synthesis was fusing with a blinding flash, and all four tracks cut at Newman's first session behind Charles on November 18, 1954 -- the seminal "I've Got A Woman," the two supercharged blues, "Blackjack" and "Come Back Baby," and the street corner slice-of-jive "Greenbacks" -- are absolutely essential performances.

"I played baritone for about a year, maybe a year-and-a-half," says Newman, whose rumbling solo on "Greenbacks" is a delight alongside the tune's ultrahip stop-time breaks and Ray's hilarious deadpan vocal. "Later, the tenor player, Don Wilkerson, he left the band. Then I took Don's place. "I asked Ray, 'Could I play the tenor?' Because the tenor was the more popular instrument. And he said yes, if I'd get one. So I started playing the tenor about early '56." Wilkerson's earthy, soaring solos on "I've Got A Woman," "This Little Girl Of Mine," and "Hallelujah I Love Her So," it should be noted, are spun-gold masterpieces, showcasing another Texas tenor of considerable import (he returned to the fold in the early '60s when Charles expanded the size of his band).

The concise horn lines surrounding Charles on his 1950s Atlantic masterpieces glide with a wondrous free flow, inevitably conceived to the bossman's precise specifications. "He had a knack for his voicing with the five horns," says Newman. "That included two trumpets and three reeds -- baritone, alto, and tenor. Ray would dictate these arrangements. He would tell you exactly what to write, including rests, notes, and what line it would be on and everything," he continues. "He had exceptional ears. He didn't have a sense of sight, but there was certainly nothing wrong with his ears."

Occasionally, Newman received a welcome chance to stretch out during Ray's early R&B heyday (the bluesy 1956 instrumental "Rockhouse," for example). But by and large, his statements remained brief and to the point. "I became famous for playing 8-bar and 12-bar solos!" he laughs, fully cognizant of their smack-dab-in-the-middle impact on the mournful "Lonely Avenue," the joyous "Ain't That Love," and a rousing remake of The "5" Royales' "Tell The Truth."

Charles' musicians required chops a few cuts above the norm to keep pace with their fearless leader. "Always, above all, he was a jazz player, and he loved jazz players," notes Newman. "As a matter of fact, all his band were really jazz players. They weren't really R&B players, or blues players. They were really jazz musicians." Guitarists were unnecessary in Charles' tight-knit small band. "Ray didn't particularly want a guitar," says Newman. "He would arrange for five horns. There wasn't any room, really, for a guitar, because Ray was playing the keyboards."

In 1959 Atlantic released Newman's own debut album. Its title, Fathead: Ray Charles Presents David Newman, wasn't mindless hype; Brother Ray played immaculate ivories behind Newman's lusty horn throughout the set, which included the soul-steeped "Hard Times" and the self-penned "Fathead."

The saxist stayed with Charles through the move to ABC-Paramount Records (where Newman's horn glistened on the anguished "Unchain My Heart") and the 1960 inception of Ray's big band, finally exiting in 1964 to do his own thing. But he wasn't gone for good. "I got a call from Ray asking me how did I feel about coming back to the band," says Newman. "At the time, I wasn't that busy. So I took him up on the offer and came back and played in '70-'71."

Now a jazz luminary with his own sizable legacy, Newman chooses his words carefully when saluting the amazing accomplishments of Ray Charles. "I don't know if he would be termed a genius, but I would say that he is a very exceptionally talented and very fine artist," he says. "He certainly had his own individual approach. Ray has such a good mind, his concentration is almost perfect.

"Anything he attempts to do, usually, he does a very good job of it," says David Newman of his celebrated ex-boss. "I would daresay that he has genius qualities about him."

HANK CRAWFORD

"With Ray and I, it was very serious," says Hank Crawford. "We didn't play around a lot. When we were together, it was strictly business. He took me under his wing. I had just come from Tennessee State, so I knew a little about writing and arranging. I guess he detected that, so he kind of turned me loose. I took advantage of it, and we did a lot of things together. A lot of things."

Considering the depth and scope of their collaborations, that's no idle boast. Arriving as a permanent member of Charles' band in January 1958, Crawford quickly made himself invaluable as an elegant, blues-rooted sax stylist, a gifted jazz composer, and the band's musical director.

Hank came well-recommended. "There was a couple of my friends in the band a little bit ahead of me -- Milt Turner, who was the drummer, and John Hunt, who was a trumpet player," says Crawford. "I was in school in Nashville at the time. I'm from Memphis, and I was going to Tennessee State. Those two guys were from Nashville.

"Ray came through Nashville to do a concert. At the time, Leroy Cooper had just took a little leave of absence, a little break. And Ray needed a baritone player. So my couple of buddies, John Hunt and Milt Turner, just mentioned my name. I went down, I think I had a little rehearsal that evening with them. I played the gig that night, which was in, I think it was about October. He called me in January for the [permanent] gig three months later. And I left school and went with him."

Crawford was versed in the intricacies of bop as well as roadhouse R&B (he had cut an obscure 45 in 1957 billed as Little Hank & The Rhythm Kings, handling his own vocals). Talk about trials by fire: Hank distinguished himself on Charles' dazzling set at the Newport Jazz Festival in July of '58, and made his first studio appearance on baritone at the October date that produced "(Night Time Is) The Right Time." Back then, he was listed under his given name of Bennie Crawford, but his long-standing nickname of Hank soon won out.

"It was a small band when I went in," he notes. "In those two years from '58 through '60, I played baritone in the small band, the little four-horn thing. [In] 1960 he enlarged the band. I was kind of in charge of the small band, too, but when the big band came along, he really gave it up to me. I was Ray's first musical director."

That meant Hank was responsible for carefully notating Ray's arrangements. "I was always writing, and he would dictate," says Crawford. "I spent many hours with him, man. He would dictate stuff to me, and then he would say, 'Hey, go for yourself.' I got to know him and how he wrote. I had sort of the same kind of feeling that Ray had about the music, so it was very easy for me to know where he was coming from. I was from the gospel/spiritual thing, too, so I adjusted to Ray. He gave me those liberties, which I appreciated a lot."

The magnificent big band approach utilized in 1959 for the Atlantic LP The Genius Of Ray Charles planted the seeds for the pianist's own greatly expanded aggregation the following year. "I think in the back of his mind, he always wanted one," says Crawford. "Because his small band was like a big little band. But when we did 'Let The Good Times Roll' and that set, that was it. Don Wilkerson came back, and Cooper came back. I was playing baritone, and when Cooper came back, I moved to alto." Until then, the versatile Charles himself had been doubling on alto sax for live shows. From here on, alto would endure as Hank's axe of choice.

"That little small band, it was just something else," continues Crawford. "We got a chance to play more in the small band. The big band, we just kind of catered to his vocal stuff. But in the small band, we used to go on and do an hour before Ray. We had the bandstand hot for him when he came up there!"

Ray's groundbreaking forays into reshaping country & western material in his own soul-soaked image barely caused a ripple within the ranks. "We were kind of surprised when we first heard that was gonna happen," admits Crawford. "But after we heard it, we said, 'Oh yeah. Well, hey, no problem. He'll do what he wants to do.' And that's the way the band was. We would play Ray's stuff, and it was a hell of a little jazz band too. We'd play the blues, man, we'd play jazz. All of the musicians were qualified -- Marcus Belgrave and people like that. We were all jazz musicians that played the blues."

Crawford exited Charles' band in June 1963 to form his own group, one he still leads brilliantly today (sometimes in partnership with sizzling organist Jimmy McGriff). But those unforgettable years with Ray left a bone-deep impression on the saxist.

"He was a leader, and still is," says Crawford. "He demanded perfection, which I admire. He wanted it right, and if it wasn't right, he just wouldn't accept it. A lot of days I was p.o.'d, because he would just let you know. But basically, after you know him and get to know where he's coming from, you could see he just wants it right."

Is Ray Charles truly a genius? "In his own way," replies Crawford thoughtfully. "Genius, man, that could apply to a lot of people. But I say yeah, because there's only one that does it. And it's his own thing."

LEROY "HOG" COOPER

Baritone sax specialist Leroy "Hog" Cooper crossed paths with both Fathead and Brother Ray long before he actually joined the ranks of the band. Cooper was another proud product of the fertile Dallas R&B circuit, who initially encountered Charles at the 1952 session with Zuzu Bollin (Ray was just a spectator that day).

"That's when I first met him," says Cooper. "I was in the Army during this time. Stanley Turrentine kept telling us about this fantastic piano player who was blind. He was talking about Ray."

A giant-sized presence (he's since slimmed down), Cooper acquired his nickname while attending school. "I was so big," he explains. "Some little guy in college told me, 'You big hoghead so-and-so,' you know. Boy, everybody thought that was hilarious. I was 'Pig' first, and then I went to 'Hog.' Too much spaghetti and wine!"

Cooper honed his horn chops during a stretch in the service. "I came out of an Army band," he says. "We were getting Basie's charts from Ernie Wilkins. I was stationed near St. Louis, so the guys would go by Ernie's house. If they would copy the score, we could have the charts. Sometimes we had charts before Basie!"

Hog and Fathead were frequent musical cohorts -- they both played on the 1954 Lowell Fulson date that produced "Reconsider Baby" -- so it isn't too surprising that Newman offered his friend entrée to Charles' band in 1957. "Fathead used to come by the club where I worked in Dallas all the time," he says. "He was playing baritone and wanted to go to the tenor. So he said, 'Why don't you come in and play the baritone?' I was on another gig, and the gig folded. So Ray Charles' manager called me the same day, and I thought somebody was pulling my leg. I said, 'I can't believe this.'"

Working with Ray was a far cry indeed from what Cooper had previously experienced on the bandstand. "I was working with these little local bands," he says. "Ray was more organized -- uniforms and so forth." The musicianship was sky-high as well. "I enjoyed the little band, because we were seven or eight of us trying to sound like 18," says Cooper. "We always tried to pull together. It's funny -- I learned later that that was very different, because so many guys in bands would be trying to outdo each other. But that wasn't any part of us. We wanted to sound good as a unit."

Cooper's first recording session with Charles in December of '59 coincided with Ray's switch to the ABC-Paramount label. The Sid Feller-supervised date produced the streetwise "Them That Got" as well as "My Baby! (I Love Her, Yes I Do)" and "Who You Gonna Love?" Thanks to Ray, Cooper came to understand much about his craft. "I learned to respect music more," Cooper says. "He's approaching music from a serious aspect. I learned to really appreciate and try to learn more on my art."

The big band format Charles favored during the 1960s and '70s suited Cooper like a hog in slop. He even landed the briefest of speaking roles in Ballad In Blue, a 1964 movie melodrama, which starred Ray and the band, that was filmed in Ireland by director Paul Henreid. Naturally, Cooper's only line revolved around his prodigious appetite.

Finally, in 1976, Cooper settled into a permanent band-leading gig at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, where he remains to this day (whenever Ray's big band passes through the Sunshine State, though, Cooper rejoins him for selected concert dates). His loyalty remains as strong as when he was the full-time anchor of Charles' mighty reed section.

"We used to work about nine months out of the year, and we would take three months off," says Cooper. "And when that time would come, I would get a real sad feeling, because every night I could sit up there and listen to this man sing and what he would do. Just to think that I would have to be away from that for about three or four months, it would make me very sad."

-- Bill Dahl
 

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Thanks to gary for the interesting Bill Dahl article. There is no doubt in my mind that these guys were the giants of blues or soul saxophone.

I think anyone who has doubts about David Newman as a jazz artist should listen to some of his recent albums: "Davey Blue" (especially), "Song For the New Man" (a pun on his name), and "The Gift". Newman never was a honker. He would choose his notes carefully and was able to say a lot in his usual 8 bar solos. He makes brilliant use of understatement so that he expresses strong emotion by drawing you into it rather than covering you up with it.

Spas, give him another listen.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
I LOVE David Newman. In fact, I acknowledged that he was among the few that Ray was not "as good as"(by my own, apparently unique, scale.)

Besides his alto on "Hard Times" and the intro to "The Night Time is the Right Time", the tenor solo in "Unchain my Heart" stands as a monument to cool playing in a hot climate! (The mono "hit" version, that is....the stereo version was tepid!)

Spaz with a "Z"!
"Spas" is two hot tubs!
 

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Oops. My apologies Spaz for misspelling your name and misunderstanding your comments. I also misattributed the Bill Dahl article, which was reprinted by kingperkoff, not gary. Altogether a lot of misses for one post. Maybe I should just read today!
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
It has occured to me that many folks seem to think that I do not regard highly those whom I classify as lesser than Ray Charles. This is not the case! In fact, I believe that Ray Charles had the finest jazz-oriented blues band/orchestra ever assembled, but the final, essential, ingredient was always Ray himself!

He was not TECHNICALLY the greatest singer!
He was not TECHNICALLY the greatest pianist!
He was not TECHNICALLY the greatest arranger!
He was not TECHNICALLY the greatest saxophonist!

He was Ray Charles!

And TECHNICALLY, nothing else matters much!
 
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