Jazz, gospel, rhythm and blues: Ray Charles, "The Genius," can do it all, and do it all he does in his 1964 concert at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. Originally released by ABC-Paramount in 1965 as a twelve-song album, it's now being reissued by Concord Music Group on a nineteen-track (seventeen-song) CD, Ray Charles: Live in Concert. There are some performers who seem uncomfortable outside the recording studio; live audiences are inconveniences that have to be put up with. Then there are some performers who always seem to manage a little something extra in live performance; audiences energize them. Not only is Ray Charles in this second group, he may well be at the head of the pack. The audience is having a good time; he is having a great time.
Whether he is taking a hoary old standard like "Margie" and making it his own, or rocking out his own chart topper, "Hallelujah, I Love Her So," this is a singer who has his audience in the palm of his hand. He begins with two big-band jazz instrumentals, "Swing a Little Taste" and "One Mint Julep." The band has a brassy vibe that someone like Count Basie would have been proud of. On the first of the two you can hear Charles' patented growl over the piano. Original liner notes indicated that the fifteen-piece band included a dozen horns featuring sax players David "Fathead" Newman, Hank Crawford and Leroy "Hog" Cooper. This is a band that can swing with the best of them. (As an aside, I recently heard "Fathead" Newman's "Hard Times" on an old time rock podcast, and if you've never heard it, you can download it from his web site. It's worth your time).
The set includes a remarkable bluesy "Georgia on My Mind" with a flute and organ accompaniment that unaccountably didn't make the original album. Whoever decided to leave it out should have his head examined. It is one of the singer's finest moments. Lillian Fort joins him in a duet on "Don't Set Me Free." "I Got a Woman," a Charles standard, begins with a playful shout out to Chopin and then morphs into the blues. Other Charles favorites in the set include "In the Evening (When the Sun Goes Down)" with some really nice interaction with a solo trumpet, an eloquent "You Don't Know Me," and a rocking version of "What'd I Say" as the concert's finale.