16 October 2009

Ray Charles: In Tribute

I saw the late Ray Charles live twice -- sequential gigs on a tour in the late seventies. Both show were great, but they couldn't have been more different. The first show was in Mobile, Alabama and Ray was playing to -- what can I call it -- his "commercial" audience. This show was designed to entertain anybody with even the smallest appreciation for his talent. He was playing to a mostly white audience, and entertain he did. He blew me away.

But I didn't know what was to come. The next show was at the New Orleans Performing Arts Center. Here he played a completely different set, this time to take serious jazz fans and blow their socks off. Striped down, improvisational, personal; I was awestruck by both his polished talent as an artist and also charisma as a showman.

I hear the recent film Ray is a good one, but I intentionally haven't seen it. I'm still savoring my memories of those two live show more than a generation ago. Ray, your genius will always live on in my heart and my soul.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Malo, I did see the movie. Of course, I am only an audience of one and cannot know what you might have thought of it, but I found the movie superficial. No character traits came out. As if it was a listing of snippets of his life focusing and that's what bothered me very much on his heroin addiction. Mean-spirited and unnecessary. (The movie went all over the world. You have to remember a great artist for his addiction? Someone who is not around anymore on top of that.)

Paco Malo said...


First, welcome and thank you for stopping by. Second, I greatly appreciate your observations on the film "Ray" (2004).

Your reaction to the film is exactly the concern I had about it. That is, the film might present either an unbalanced view of Ray Charles or taint my fine memories of this great artist.

I knew about Ray's heroin addiction and it didn't mean much to me with respect to his talent. But I do mention it sometimes when talking about him when relevant. Specifically, Ray had been addicted to and beat his addictions to both heroin and also nicotine. He used to say that getting off of cigarettes was harder for him than getting off heroin. I think there is a valuable lesson in that.

His addictions or lack there of are his business, and not mine. I judge a great artist by his work and then, if relevant somehow, look to the little slices of his or her life for lessons to be learned.

For me, Ray Charles' story is about a music pioneer who overcame great adversity to bring his music to a world that needed entertainers like him. He brought a lot of joy through his music to a huge audience. Moreover, he broke down color barriers in the U.S. that are now slowly but surely fading from relevance.

I'm going to stick with my memories. You've helped me confirm my decision to take a pass on the film. Thanks. Hope to see you hear again soon.

Paco (Jim)