Ray Charles: Live in France 1961

Ray Charles
Live in France 1961
(Eagle Vision)

In July 1961, Ray Charles took his band to Europe for the first time. His first stop was the Antibes Jazz Festival in France. Four sets over four days gave him international credibility. Fortunately, the performances were captured on 16mm. Unfortunately, that footage was lost for the better part of 50 years. Fortunately, it was discovered recently, 50 years later, digitally restored, and is now available for all to enjoy.

What you have here are two full performances (the opening and the closing of the festival – July 18 and 22, respectively). As bonus tracks, there are select performances from July 19 and 21, which feature slightly different arrangements of songs performed in previous Antibes sets and some deeper tracks.

All in all, it’s brilliant.

This is history recorded. Charles and his legendary band, featuring David “Fathead” Newman and Hank Crawford, are at their peak and functioning as a true unit. They are tight! Charles is in the pocket, not out in front, not being showcased as a front man or the primary draw.

It’s interesting how he eases the crowd into his special brand of R&B during the first set. On July 18, 1961, festival goers politely greeted Charles and crew and were offered three non-vocal jazz numbers … very traditional and appropriate for the day. It’s not until the fourth song (“Let the Good Times Roll”) when Charles starts singing and the set begins to shift. And from there it’s no holds barred, a true onslaught of R&B genius – featuring the original Raeletts, the female backing vocalists, who exude coolness whenever they are on stage.

It must have been apparent to the band that they had made inroads with their earlier sets. By the final day of the festival (July 22), they were primarily offering up R&B with only a couple jazz standards thrown in for good measure.

This presentation is a truly enjoyable find … dare I say, a treasure.