Sunday, September 27, 2009

Ray Charles, "Oh What a Beautiful Morning"

More Ray Charles!

Here is an incredibly awesome performance of Ray doing his special jazz version of this classic American song from the Musical, Oklahoma, on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show (and Carson's Tonight Show Band was always a really great band). If you like big band jazz at all, you will love this! It's amazing what he does with this song. I can't imagine anyone else but him singing it like this. One of a kind.

It has a slow intro and then starts swingin' at 2:00.

I love how he puts his entire body into the music! And you can tell it's sincere. He can't help but almost jump out of his skin in his genuine enthusiasm for the music. It's as though every cell of his body is totally absorbed into the soul of the song. Just awesome!!!

This is a good example of great art coming out of a close familiarity with the past. Ray took something older and very familiar to American culture, mixed it up with something a little more recent, and in the mix made it very much his own. And though it is very different from the original, it still has a recognizable trace of its original form. This is one of the reasons the final result is so pleasing. It is old and new and unique and (slightly) familiar all at the same time. It takes real artistic genius to pull this off so well.

Update: If you are a fan of Ray Charles, you will be interested in this. There is a new video podcast series, "Ray Charles, Genius," on Ray and his music available on YouTube. I especially enjoyed the following two episodes: Playing with Ray Charles, and The Real Ray Charles, According to Mike Post. If you are a music lover there is some great behind-the-scenes information in these episodes.

I also especially enjoyed one particular clip from a series of video interviews with Ray made by the National Visionary Leadership Project. Go to this web page, and play the episode, "My First Piano Lessons." (You will need the ability to play wmv files; Windows Media Player or RealPlayer will both work). In this clip Ray talks about his very first experience of the piano when he was only four, via a local boogie-woogie piano player whose music captivated him. It's pretty neat. At the end of the clip he makes this insightful remark, "[music] was just something that was in me, that I just had to be a part of it."

This remark fits nicely with the following idea which I believe is true: great artists have a sense that somehow in the creative process they are tapping into something beyond themselves. The spirit of the artistic impulse is both inside and outside them. When they are engaged in their art, they are not acting completely alone--they are not an isolated island. Somehow, as they create or perform, they are also mysteriously connected to a spiritual reality that informs the artistic process. Note, Ray did not say he had to create music out of nothing as though it were a solitary endeavor; rather, he said he "just had to be a part of it." It, was an already existing reality to which he wanted to become more consciously attuned and connected.

And if you liked that one, the clip, "Hearing my first arrangement," is also quite fun and charming. He describes how thrilling it was for him the first time, still a boy, that he heard musicians play an arrangement of music he had written.

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