Ray Charles: The Spirit-Feel
Ray Charles (alto sax)
Pure Genius: The Complete Atlantic Recordings (1952-1959) (Rhino/WEA 74731)
Ray Charles (alto sax),
Lee Harper, Marcus Belgrave (trumpets), David “Fathead” Newman (tenor sax), Bennie Crawford (baritone sax), Edgar Willis (bass), Richie Goldberg (drums).
Composed by Milt Jackson.
Recorded: live at Newport Jazz Festival, RI, July 5, 1958
Rating: 75/100 (learn more)
In 1958, R&B demigod Ray Charles appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival among such other big-name non-jazz performers as Chuck Berry and Mahalia Jackson, all part of impresario George Wein's habitual attempt to attract customers who couldn't care less about jazz. Yet as shown in film- maker Bert Stern's feature-length documentary Jazz on a Summer's Day, neither Berry nor Jackson tried to blend in with any honest-to-goodness jazz artists who may have accidentally found their way onto the bill. Doing "Sweet Little Sixteen," Chuck Berry remained as oblivious to the Swing Era stalwarts reluctantly backing him as they were unhelpful to his rock 'n' roll. And the sole connection of gospel singer Mahalia Jackson's reverential "The Lord's Prayer" to jazz was as an inadvertent reminder of trumpeter Harry James's famous quip that, appearing with Benny Goodman at Carnegie Hall in 1938, he felt like "a whore in church." Miss Jackson at the NJF must've conversely felt like an abbess in a brothel.
Ray Charles, by contrast, unwisely adjusted his act to suit his surroundings, which perhaps explains why he's not in the movie. "The Spirit-Feel," a jazz tune, was first recorded by its composer, vibist Milt Jackson, on Atlantic Records in early 1957, but was not covered on either of Milt's subsequent collaborations with Atlantic's superstar Ray Charles: Soul Brothers (1957) and Soul Meeting (1958). Nevertheless, Charles saw fit to present it at the Newport Jazz Festival, where presumably at least some infinitesimal segment of the audience might actually know how a jazz number is supposed to sound. In Charles's hands, "The Spirit-Feel" becomes a ragged warm-up exercise. Absent a trombone, the horns in Ray's R&B septet have no midsection, and it shows. The soloists, excepting tenorman David "Fathead" Newman but including Charles himself on alto sax, are at best amateurish. Simply put, this band had no business playing jazz. When you go to a hoedown, you oughta dance with the one what brung you.
Reviewer: Alan Kurtz