Ray Charles' 'Genius + Soul = Jazz'

Ray Charles was best known for his work in the idioms of R&B, rock ’n’ roll and even successful forays into country. But he also recorded influential jazz albums, including the groundbreaking Genius + Soul = Jazz originally released in 1961, and continuing into the ’70s with My Kind of Jazz, Jazz Number II and My Kind of Jazz Part 3. On April 6, 2010, Concord Records will release a deluxe edition two-CD set featuring digitally remastered versions of all four albums including encyclopedic liner notes by Will Friedwald, jazz writer for The Wall Street Journal and author of several books on music and popular culture, along with original liner notes by Dick Katz and Quincy Jones.

Genius + Soul = Jazz was recorded at the Van Gelder Studios in Englewood Cliffs, NJ, in late 1960. The producer was Creed Taylor; arrangers, Quincy Jones and Ralph Burns. Ray Charles played the organ with three vocals (“I’ve Got News for You,” “I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town” and “One Mint Julep”) and band members included members of the Count Basie Orchestra: Thad Jones, Joe Newman, Billy Mitchell, Frank Wess, Freddie Green, and Sonny Payne among others. Issued originally on ABC Records’ legendary Impulse jazz label, the record ascended to the #4 spot on Billboard’s pop album chart, and spawned the very first singles on Impulse, heretofore an album label. “I’ve Got News for You,” rose to #8 R&B and #66 on the Hot 100. In addition, Charles’ version of “One Mint Julep” charted #1 R&B and #8 pop, and his rendition of the blues standard “I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town” reached #25 R&B and #84 pop.

As annotator Friedwald states, “Genius + Soul = Jazz . . . was a bold and innovative album, but, at the same time, a direct step forward from his earlier work.” Although Basie himself does not appear on the album, the Count was a major model as Charles assembled a full-scale, working orchestra. Basie also influenced his use of organ in a jazz context, and Charles was happy to record at the Van Gelder studio, where Jimmy Smith had recorded his classic Blue Note albums. Truly, as Dick Katz wrote in his original January 1961 liner notes, “The combination here of rare talent plus uncommon craftsmanship has produced a record that showcases the timeless quality and innate taste that is uniquely that of Ray Charles.”

Some nine years later, Charles recorded another jazz album, My Kind of Jazz. With sessions in Los Angeles this time, Charles surrounded himself with such players as Bobby Bryant and Blue Mitchell, trumpet; Glen Childress, trombone; Andy Ennis, Albert McQueen and Clifford Scott, saxophone; and Ben Martin, guitar. The album contained Charles’ own “Booty-Butt” (which was issued as a single on his own Tangerine label), Lee Morgan’s “Sidewinder,” and Horace Silver’s “Señor Blues.”

In his original liner notes to My Kind of Jazz, Quincy Jones wrote, “This album is the essence of what Ray used to tell us when we were kids: Be true to the soul of the material you’re dealing with.”

Jazz Number II was recorded roughly two years later at Charles’ Tangerine/RPM Studios and issued on Tangerine Records. Charles enlisted an impressive cast of arrangers: Alf Clausen, Teddy Edwards, Jimmy Heath and Roger Neumann.  The tracks included Ray Charles and Roger Neumann’s “Our Suite,” Teddy Edwards’ “Brazilian Skies” and “Going Home,” Thad Jones’ “Kids Are Pretty People” and Jimmy Heath’s “Togetherness.”

Finally, My Kind of Jazz Part 3, which concludes the Genius + Soul = Jazz deluxe package, was recorded in Los Angeles circa 1975, featured the Ray Charles Orchestra including Clifford Solomon, alto sax; Glen Childress, trombone; Johnny Coles, trumpet; Leroy Cooper, baritone sax; and James Clay, tenor sax. Included are compositions by Duke Ellington, Horace Silver, Jimmy Heath and Benny Golson. Issued on Charles’ own Crossover Records, the album reached #55 on the R&B chart in 1976.

The reissue of Genius + Soul = Jazz continues Concord Music Group’s long-term reissuing of the Ray Charles catalog in cooperation with the Ray Charles Foundation. Among the other albums repackaged in the past year are Genius Hits the Road, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, Message From the People, plus the career compilation titled Genius.

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