Ray Sings and Basie Swings A new album features the late Ray Charles playing with the Count Basie Orchestra, but Charles never actually recorded with the group. The tracks were mashed together by an audio engineer who used to play with Charles.
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Ray Sings and Basie Swings

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Ray Sings and Basie Swings

Ray Sings and Basie Swings

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris.

And this is a recording of Ray Charles that's, well, a little rough around the edges.

(Soundbite of Ray Charles)

Mr. RAY CHARLES: (Singing) I been (unintelligible)

NORRIS: This was put away after it was made in the mid-'70s and eventually got lost. Well, fast forward two decades. The recording is discovered in a record company vault. It was rescued and revived with the help of technology and some sharp new arrangements from Count Basie's orchestra. Ray Charles and Count Basie never recorded together when they were alive, but their sounds are together now on a new CD called Ray sings, Basie swings. Producer Gregg Field worked with both Ray Charles and Count Basie in the flesh. He stopped by to explain how the two legends came together in his computer.

Mr. GREGG FIELD (Record Producer): Well, the first thing we had to do is we had to try to segregate Ray's voice from everything else. And I put the recording into the computer and literally chopped out everything where Ray was not singing.

(Soundbite of Ray Charles)

Mr. CHARLES: (Singing) After said enough.

Mr. FIELD: So what that is, that's the vocal coming in and out on us, eliminating everything in between.

(Soundbite of Ray Charles)

Mr. CHARLES: (Singing) Monday morning is a day of love.

NORRIS: But you couldn't remove everything. You still had the end.

Mr. FIELD: No. Absolutely not.

(Soundbite of Ray Charles)

Mr. CHARLES: (Singing) I gotta milk the cow. Don't 'bout that (unintelligible)

NORRIS: And you brought in the contemporary Count Basie orchestra to lay down a matching and much better, far improved instrumental track.

Mr. FIELD: Yeah. It is amazing that Ray and Basie never recorded together. So this was sort of a dream of mine to actually hear what it would sound like with this, you know, intense swinging uniquely sounding band backing up Ray Charles, and I thought it would be a match made in heaven.

NORRIS: Can we listen to a bit of it?

Mr. FIELD: Absolutely.

(Soundbite of "Ray sings, Basie Swings")

NORRIS: I'm just curious how you actually did this. Once you had the new instrumentals, then how do you take the old recording and match that to the new instrumental?

Mr. FILED: We would take it line by line. So if Ray sang a line that had four or five words - in that line you would hear a cymbal hit or a bass note hit. And we would line that cymbal hit or bass note hit up to the new recording. And when you've got it exactly right, the old bass note disappeared because the sound of the new note would mask it. And the advantage of doing it this way is that we, not only retained - you know - the sonic equality, we were able to retain Ray's phrasing, which I was - really very important to make the sound right.

(Soundbite of "Ray sings, Basie Swings")

Mr. CHARLES: (Singing) Let yourself go. Let yourself go. Let yourself go. Let yourself go. Let yourself, let yourself go. Let yourself go.

Mr. FIELD: You know, I realized about halfway through the project that we needed Raylettes. So I called Patti Austin, who is an old friend and I've produced a couple of records for her, and I asked her if she'd be willing to put together, you know, the greatest Raylettes on the planet, which she did. And that's our new Raylettes.

NORRIS: Let's hear the new Raylettes.

(Soundbite of "Ray sings, Basie Swings")

RAYLETTES: (Singing) Every time that they - ohh. Every time that they - ohh.

NORRIS: Did they do the whole Raylette thing when they laid this down? Did they make up the moves that went along with that? Because the Raylettes never stood still when they sang.

MR. FIELD: Yeah. That's funny. You know, they actually did. They were, you know, they're part of the, you know, finding the pocket was exactly that. The other - we had a great time doing it. I mean, they were dancing and clapping. And you can hear it translates into their performance.

NORRIS: Yeah. I kind of feel the hips kind of moving from side to side.

MR. FIELD: Oh yeah.

NORRIS: And the final product.

(Soundbite of "Ray sings, Basie Swings")

Mr. CHALRES: (Singing) Every time you love. It's a Saturday night. And as long as I'm able.

RAYLETTES: (Singing) Gonna do the same thing again.

Mr. CHALRES: (Singing) My head hurts so bad.

RAYLETTES: (Singing) But it don't change.

Mr. CHALRES: (Singing) I'll be so toned down.

RAYLETTES: (Singing) I don't even know my name.

Mr. CHALRES: (Singing)(Unintelligible)

NORRIS: Did this project give you a new appreciation for Ray Charles as an artist?

Mr. FILED: Absolutely. And I think one reason is that - when I was in my 20's and I was working for him, I don't think I really had the musical maturity to appreciate what an amazing artist Ray Charles - Ray Charles, you know, when they referred to him as a genius, it's - that's the perfect word for him. He sort of raised the bar no matter what style that he decided to embrace. And now, you know, I just turned 50 and as I listened to this music and I really got into these performances and the nuance of them, I had new and profound respect for Ray Charles.

NORRIS: How long did this take you?

Mr. FIELD: The - there were 12 songs and it took - we started recording on the 20th of February of this year and I delivered the record in mid-June. And we worked everyday and sometimes 18 hours a day. It was a - well, what I thought was going to be a couple of months to put together, it ended up being about five months. But a joyous work and I got up every morning and couldn't wait to get to the studio, because I knew what we could arrive at, you know, if we put in the time.

NORRIS: I hope you'll indulge me. I want to play one more song before I ask you one last question. It's actually the first song on the CD, Oh What a Beautiful Morning. Can we listen to that?

Mr. FIELD: Oh, it's a great tune.

(Soundbite of song, "Oh What a Beautiful Morning")

Mr. CHARLES: (Singing) There's a bright golden haze in the meadow. There's a bright golden haze in the meadow.

NORRIS: You know, we all should wake up to this.

Mr. FIELD: I did for about five months. And went to bed with it.

NORRIS: Now, Gregg, if you could play this for Ray Charles tonight, what do you think he would say about it?

Mr. FIELD: He would stand up and cheer. And you know, there were nights I'd be down the studio at two in the morning working on this and it felt like he was in the room. You felt almost guided. I think Ray Charles would be very happy.

Mr. CHARLES: (Singing) Well, I say oh, what a beautiful day. Yes, what a wonderful day.

NORRIS: Gregg Field, thanks so much for coming in and talking to us.

Mr. FIELD: Great, Michele. Looking forward to the next time.

NORRIS: Gregg field produced Ray Sings, Basie Swings with Concord Records and Starbucks Hear Music. Ray and Basie swings some more at NPR.org, where you can hear exactly how Gregg Field produced the record.

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