Sometimes You Gotta Keep Goin’

JJ INCJ.J. Johnson with tromboneHub

 

When the LP J.J. Inc. by J. J. Johnson– http://www.allmusic.com/album/jj-inc-mw0000595247 — was first released in 1961, I rushed out and grabbed a copy. It instantly became, and still is, one of my favorite albums. Great writing and arrangements by J.J. and all of the players were popping.

On one of the tracks–Shutterbug–I noticed what seemed to be a glitch during Freddie Hubbard’s solo.  Each time I listened to it, I always heard that spot. I subsequently met and had several conversations with J.J., but I never asked him about it; although I did tell him it was one of my favorites.  J.J. said it was a “Milestones groove”. It was also my good fortune to later play with and befriend Freddie Hubbard.

So, one day as Freddie and I were talking about him working in that band I mentioned it. He perked up and said:
“Let me tell you about that Hall.” He began by telling me about the session, noting that except for one track the LP was recorded on one day. No more than two takes on each track and, in the case of Shutterbug, one. He told me that it was no issue at all because this was a ‘working band’; they played these tunes on a nightly basis on the gigs they were doing. I remember him mentioning that they did some tunes that,
to his knowledge, were never released from that date. Although several versions of the ‘master’ have been released over the years, the essence of the track has not been edited or otherwise tampered with; only the sonic properties have changed via digital enhancements.

Now, before I tell you how Freddie remembered the track, take a listen to it yourself, even if you’ve heard it before,  paying attention to his solo.

 

It’s not a matter of a mistake or an error, it was rather an occurrence or incident. Something that happens and has happened too many times to think of trying to tally. It happens in the studio, on the bandstand and whenever
musicians play, especially when improvisation is involved. If it happens during a rehearsal, the playing might stop;  but, if the groove outweighs the blip, you just keep going like Freddie and the band did here. Thankfully the producer did too.

Sometimes, it’s never even mentioned or acknowledged when it goes down. Freddie said that’s what happened here.  But everybody probably realized what happened. This track is uptempo and what did happen went down in a flash.

As I began to recollect all of this, I asked a couple of musicians to listen to this track and give me some feedback, one of which was Mitch Hampton. I didn’t tell them why or what my agenda was. Mitch got back to me with outstanding insights on Freddie’s playing and the recording itself.  But, he didn’t mention anything about what Freddie and I talked to.
I’m sure he heard it, but like most—it was not a big issue.  And actually, in the scheme of things, it’s not. It just happened.  I also asked a couple of trumpet players who, admittedly, are indebted to Freddie’s influence. However, as of this writing, I have not received a reply.

So, now let’s get to the issue of this thing OK. Here is what I heard and Freddie explained to me what actually went down:
It was decided—in the studio–that each solo would be four choruses starting with a vamp interlude and lead-in —by way, we discussed the often missed fact, that the interludes were voiced differently each time; J.J. got that idea from Horace Silver according to Freddie. If you noticed, all of the soloist—including J.J.–play four (4) choruses as talked to and Freddie crafted his solo to build into the final one. However, when he hit the vamp after his 4th chorus to lead into the tenor solo, nobody else–other than him the drums and bass did the vamp; that was the ‘blip’.  Freddie said it was never really discussed after the session. Listen carefully, the band reacted and recovered on a dime and Freddie did something spontaneously amazing; he incorporated the vamp figure into what would become his 5th chorus.  And, the band played on. Maybe Freddie mesmerized the other cats–who knows (smile).

Just like the eager lensman depicted in the title, this track snaps powerful shots; however, sometimes a negative doesn’t make the cut and falls to the darkroom floor. The only ones to notice are the photographer, the photo buff
and perhaps the subject.

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America’s Election Process

usa-votinghand

Since the last national election cycle began and culminated with yesterday’s inauguration, It became noticeably apparent just how convoluted, sorted and hideous the election process in the USA actually is. This is not, although some will disagree, a partisan or unpatriotic comment; it has real merit. It’s actually a set-up, at least. No wonder there is so much apathy within the body politic.

The election process, especially at the national level, is one intentionally confusing apparatus. When Mark Twain said:

“If voting made any difference they wouldn’t let us do it.”

He surely had a point.

Many citizens, for several assorted reasons, don’t or can’t vote; that we know. And some who vote, feel that their votes mean little or less. The ‘millions’ of votes that got outweighed (overlooked really) in the general election recently are cases at point. And, the  big money involved in the campaigns is absolutely insane, and in a few places obscene. It is a millionaire’s game these days–two parties only, for the most part, too

These are my feelings and I will not debate them. I will, however,  challenge you–agree or disagree– to look at the list of items below and see if you fully understand them and their implications. As an informed, concerned citizen/voter, you should. If not, therein lies part of the problem.  How many of these do you fully understand? Do you find any unfair or objectionable? Etc:

Primaries

General election

Electoral college

Electoral congress

Delegates pledged, Unpledged, Super

Conventions, brokered, contested

Winner take all, proportioned

Caucus

Super PACs, Campaign PACs

Debates

Popular vote vs Electoral vote

Eligible and Restricted voting, ID Laws

Early voting

Same day voting only

Absentee ballots

Two party system

Voting across party lines

(You might think of others, not listed)***

So, these are the main ones though.

And add this to the mix, each of the 50 States goes with voting laws and rules independently; none are congruent.

One thing is certain, the whole of the system needs to be revisited, simplified and made fair. Look at the list and ponder it once more. If you think it makes sense to have all of those factors at play in the process, so be it. I do not.

*** Make it know via Comment.

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My Military Service

army-pic3a

When I graduated high school I looked at three choices, basically: Accept a music scholarship, go to work or join the military. Since it was the beginning of the so-called, Vietnam conflict era; and the draft was in place, my second option took a back seat. Me and a school band mate—Ricardo Hatton– found out from an Army recruiter that we could get into music (band) and avoid a probable combat assignment if we volunteered. And although the draft was for three(3) years of service, signing up would mean four(4)–including active reserve status. So, since I was promised and guaranteed that after my basic training I would be assigned to the Army Element at the Naval School of Music, I felt like I could do more growing up doing that and getting college later, with the G.I. Bill footing most of the costs too. So, I enlisted.

My music career in the service started with an audition with the post band’s Bandmaster at Ft. Jackson, SC. He would decide whether I would go to the Naval School straight away, after completing my ‘basic’ or to a post band in the interim.

After I completed my training and my first leave, I reported to the Army Element at the Anacostia NAS (Washington, DC). The Naval School of Music was a prized assignment. It was a hub for the best military band training and musicianship studies. We studied theory, applied instrument and military music history, and of course military secondary specialties—after all, it was the Army. Just as having to know the ‘general orders’ in boot camp, knowing how FM 22-5 related to the band was pertinent also. An interesting side-note here is that I encountered several South Vietnamese sailors training (non-musical) there when I would, on occasion, run into them at the gedunk/beer hall while off duty. I remember seeing their arm patch—Republic of South Vietnam Navy– and thinking: What is this all about(?).

One of the most interesting and rewarding things about being stationed at Anacostia was that the Army was drafting so many great musicians. Many were established players and artists. Some had ‘connections’ that allowed them to get to DC after their basic training even though they were draftees—they were the lucky ones. I can’t begin to count the number of fantastic players I encountered or heard about that were drafted and assigned to other fields and duty assignments. Some were in infantry or other combat units, others motor pools, and a few admin. areas such as quartermaster a/o AG units, etc. Anyway, I met players that became lifelong friends or we played together after our service. I’m going to name a few because I just can’t remember them all. Here is a sample: Andy Ennis and I reunited years later when we were members of the Ray Charles Orchestra; Thurman Green and I worked together many times when I moved to L.A., as I also did with Fred Jackson. George Davis turned me on to a lot of players that passed through DC. Vince Prudente also came into one of the bands. There were several bands at the station and since some were Navy (Marines) and others Army; a lot of players never got to meet there in person, but we knew who was there by word of mouth and jam sessions. We had players from symphony orchestras, concert solo artists, cats from all the major big bands and touring groups like Woody Herman, Lionel Hampton, Gerald Wilson, Maynard Ferguson, Fats Domino, Basie, etc. The band unit I was assigned to played several official functions in Washington also. When I got off-duty time, it was Baltimore—Andy Ennis was my connection there; he introduced me to guys like Mickey Fields and Jimmy Wells, along with his sister Ethel; and Philly, NYC or wherever, that were fairly close and within my budget to check out some music a/o sit-in. In DC the Howard Theater—shows there included Miles Davis’ sextet w/JJ Johnson, Herbie Mann, Johnny Griffin and Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis, Shirley Scott and Stanley Turrentine, etc., there was a bar across from the stage door–called Celia’s, I think– where I met many who hung out there; then the Orbit Room– Buck Clarke led the house band and shows, and Bohemian Caverns—the JFK Quintet was the house band there w/weekly jam sessions; I Met Cannonball and his band there, and reminded him of that when he frequently passed through Tallahassee when I was in school there several years after my discharge. Clarke and I would play together with Freddie Hubbard years later when we were in CA. All were hot spots for me.

After finishing my training, I was briefly interested in applying for bandmaster training school; but since I had no college, no desire to commit to long-term service and few, if any, African Americans were bandmasters(warrant officers); I decided to go with my ordered assignment and report to Ft. Carson CO to be a part of the 5th Div. Band. This was a first of its kind unit. The 5th was what was called a “Mechanized Infantry Division” (The Red Diamond).   5th_infantry_division_mechanized_red_diamond_star_sticker-r38bf8936994c4bdb8acb5fc555145d85_v9w09_8byvr_324 We were advised that although we were a band unit, we moved as infantry. When and where the division went, so would we. This was unlike other posts bands and specialty bands. And, all bandsmen (we had no females in our units in those days) had infantry assignments and training– I was a 30 cal. machine gunner. We were actually on full alert during the Cuban Missile Crisis and took part in two major war game maneuvers: Operation Swift Strike and Operation Desert Strike; those were field war games taking place in the boonies of South Carolina, and moving a complete division from the Yakima National Park to the deserts near Flagstaff AZ via air and convoy! So much for my combat training.

I also tried out for the div. football team—anything to keep me out of the field. My old high school friend—Alfred Austin—was a member of the squad. That was short lived, however; but thankfully, I lucked my way into what some would call a gravy assignment. After all, I had paid some dues (smile). I got TDY with the 5th Army Entertainment Team (Showmobile) for my remaining time in active service.  

United States Army North (5th Army) Military Patch

 What a relief. And, that also came with a promotion. All members of the team were E-5 (Sergeant) and above, along with being NCOs as opposed to specialists. The team was based at 5th Army Headquarters, Ft. Sheridan, IL, near Chicago. Between there and the band at Ft. Carson, I played all kinds of gigs—on and off bases, and sat in with some great local musicians. Some of the people I interacted with—because, I just can’t recall all of them—were: Bill Brimfield, Bobby Shew, John Renner, Jim Trimble, Phil Wilson, O’dell Brown—Brown and I were in one of Marvin Gaye’s bands years later, Bill Prince, Danny Long, Gary Eaklor, Bob Gray, Paul Pino, Walter ‘poogie’ Kimble, etc….…, so many good players and good people. From a cool little jazz club in Pueblo, to jazz/soul clubs in Colorado Springs and The Cave in Manitou Springs, Denver—trading duty days and giving up a few ends to take off and hear groups like Horace Silver’s at the Blue Note there and hang out with the band—Blue Mitchell was a member and my homie too. Blue and I were on a tour of Africa some years later with Monk Montgomery. And, all over the mid-west. This is how I hung out. But the military bands had interesting assignments too. The 5th Div. Band played for many official functions, both on and off post. A group of select players from our band, of which I was a part of, went back to Washington DC and played one of the many ceremonies held there after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Since we were a marching/concert/dance band, we covered the gambit; not to mention the various small combos and soloists. We played and were the first military band to march across the Royal Gorge bridge (Canon City, CO) Our band played out of state too, like Frontier Days in Cheyenne WY and played for events and dances at Camp Hale, which was the quasi Vail resort for senior officers and a post for winter combat training along with a ‘special area’ for DoD and CIA use. I should mention that there were four(4) bands centered in close proximity in Colorado–Our div. band  and a post band at Ft. Carson; one at the Air Force Academy and the NORAD Band.

These are the high points, in many ways, but there was so much more to it. There were many musicians from all persuasions; both on the military side and civilian cats in the local cities. It was great crossing paths with each of them. A few of which I still have contact with, to this day, as mentioned earlier.

After my active duty ended, I served 1 year of reserve status assigned to 3rd Army Headquarters.   3rd-army       I was called up twice to perform parade duty—once at Ft Stewart GA and one time at Ft. Benning GA. These were large graduation ceremonies and area reservists were brought in to augment the active duty post bands. Both were no more than about week or so each. After that, I was done. At the end of my reserve year, I was offered a bonus and promotion to re-up. I passed on that and received my Honorable Discharge.

Many artists and musicians, through the years, were and are veterans. I salute them, and ALL Vets. My service was an integral part of my growth, both musically and personally. I learned that service was not only combat related. It was something that represented me, the country and gave morale to those serving along with contributing to and being a part of a common esprit de corps. A time that is emphatically and forever memorable.

(Photo: My first official U.S. Army portrait–Pvt/Rct E-1 A.J. Hall, Jr.; C Double Nickle[55]– taken the day of my first weekend pass during basic training. From the archives of Ron “COS” Hall.)

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Working With Freddie Hubbard

Long before I met, and subsequently worked with, Freddie; I had heard him on records and read about him in jazz magazines. The first time I saw him live was when he was with one of J.J. Johnson’s sextets in the early 60’s. Hearing guys on record is one thing; but, being at a table near the bandstand or in the first couple of rows at a concert, is a whole different ballgame. I First heard J.J. live at a concert (1961 with Miles’ sextet–Howard Theater in D.C) and Freddie at a club (Slug’s) in NYC. I did this while I was stationed at the Naval School of Music with the Army Element. Many weekends found me in D.C., Baltimore, Philly or even NYC, catching the cats I had heard about but never caught them live. Anyway, back to Freddie.

I can’t actually remember the first time I met Freddie in person. I do remember it was in LA, after he moved out there from the east coast [mid-seventies]. A lot of the guys I hung out and played with found themselves in some of the bands Freddie had with west coast players–Henry Franklin, Carl Randall, Buck Clarke, Carl Burnett and a few others. Anyway, Freddie had  gigs at the Roxy and the Troubadour to showcase his, then, new LP on Columbia called “High Energy”– https://www.discogs.com/Freddie-Hubbard-High-Energy/release/1599528 .   He wanted to use most of the players from the session on the gig; but, one of the guys– George Bohanon, I think– couldn’t make it. So, I got the call: When Freddie called, it was like: “Is this Al Hall?”……;(me) “this is he”…….; “This is Freddie Hubbard ….., I got a gig coming up and I need a trombone player, your name kept coming up, so the gig is yours if you can make it”;….. (me) “I can make it”……….; [but] I haven’t given you the dates yet”……..; (me) “ I can make it!”…….. So, as I recall now–it was at the rehearsal for that gig when I met Freddie for the first time. formally. As I remember, the rehearsal was at one of those big rooms at Studio Instrument Rentals[SIR] on Santa Monica Bl. up in Hollywood.

After finding time to chat with Freddie one on one and after he had been checking out how I was playing his charts and arrangements, he said: “I’m gonna use you from now on when I need a ‘bone player.”  I mentioned seeing him with J.J. years before. He recalled those days and that band; reminding me that he and J.J. were home boys from Naptown. He told me how J.J. was all business. He laughed and mimicked how J.J. introduced him: “On trumpet, Frederick Hubbard!” From the very beginning Freddie was fun to be around; but, he was complicated and moody at times too, to say the least.

NAME CALLING:

After I got to know him, I noticed that Freddie didn’t call many of the cats by their first names; it was either the surname, full name or quasi African name. It was: Cables, Randall, Franklin, Clarke and, yes Hall. Sometimes he might say the complete name and rarely the first; Fundi was Fundi. When he talked about other trumpet players; he did use Miles, he referred to Woody Shaw’s whole name. It was Clifford and Lee, Pops, Cootie, etc. When it came to fellow trumpeters, he used more first names and nicknames than ever. He never called me Sanifu or Al Hall,Jr.– it was either Hall or Al Hall. Depending on the mood or situation I greeted him loosely, most of the time: Hub, Hubbard, Hubtones, Hubcaps; I rarely , if ever, addressed him as Freddie. When I talked of him to others, I’d say Freddie, as did most of those who talked of him to, or around, me. Once in awhile he would say something with such probity; I would say: Hubbard! or Frederick!

Hanging Out:

After I met Freddie and we became friends, he would often invite me to his place up in the Hollywood Hills. It was at the front of a cul-de-sac off of  Mulholland Drive, with a great view of the valley below. Most of the time we just hung out together. A few times some other cats, like Buck Clarke would drop by too. Sometimes he would drive us to one of the clubs in the valley–Donte’s or The Baked Potato, mainly. When we walked into them; of course, Freddie garnered lots of attention. It was nice being in that company. Along with the current performers, there were always other musicians kicking it about. The most memorable being Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae; it was the first time I’d met either of them–He introduced me to both.

We did talk a lot of music at times; but we also played pool–he was pretty good, went swimming in his pool, sipped cognac, toked and did a few lines too. I enjoyed those days. Occasionally, his wife–Briggie– would peek in to say hello. We never got into any personal stuff, for the most part. On the music side we sat at his piano and talked chords and voicing; a couple of times he had me bring my horn with me. He, at times, amazed me by suddenly picking up his axe and running cascades of scales and licks in all registers with great agility and little effort. You’ve heard him, you know what I’m talking about.

Music–Live:

Although I wasn’t a core member of Hub’s traveling groups, I made many gigs with them. We played The Roxy, The Ash Grove, The Lighthouse, etc. and a few hits up in the Bay Area also. I never went east with them. I had projects with others and studio work on the west coast that paid more, so I remained close to those sources.

Recording:

I did two sessions with Freddie: Liquid Love –https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liquid_Love_(Freddie_Hubbard_album)– and Splash–https://www.discogs.com/Freddie-Hubbard-Splash/release/663602 & https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Splash_(Freddie_Hubbard_album) ; the latter was a co-production with him that I set up with Fantasy Records. Freddie produced Liquid Love for Columbia(CBS). Both were, in fact, amazing dates.  I think we did it–Liquid Love– in two days in Hollywood (Wally Hieder). Freddie and George Cables did the charts. Excellent personnel on both sessions; and the early use of the synthesizers on each.  The Splash LP was an attempt to do something ‘outside the box’. More of what was termed ‘commercial’ in that day. It had elements of what was later called; acid jazz, smooth jazz, etc. Those Splash sessions were over a period of several weeks and were done in LA (Hit City West) and Berkeley (Fantasy)

Collaborations:

I did a big band collaboration–The Intrepid Fox. Freddie was doing a lot of dates as a guest soloist with college bands and big bands overseas. So, he wanted to have some of his own charts, instead of playing things from their books. But, our big collab was the Splash LP. We were successful in a way. Because, we were in new and different territory for Freddie, we had to make choices. We had twice the amount of material, to choose from, than what was actually released. Our plan was to do, at least, one follow-up LP. That never happened for a number of reasons, some of which were issues with the label. Some critics were not kind to the project. They didn’t understand that Freddie was not trying to change his direction or his style of playing. It was simply making a different move, trying to reach a different set of ears and followers. As a matter of fact, the critics were not generally impressed with Liquid Love neither. However, the music, and those LPs, has withstood the test of time. I remember Freddie telling me: “Hall,…let’s do some funk! …and, stuff different from what I usually do.” I compiled tunes and songs while Freddie was away on a tour of Europe. When he returned, he selected what he wanted to do on Splash and we saved the others and were planning to pick a few more for a followup project. Once he decided on the tunes, he left the arranging mostly up to me–but, of course, I would run my progress by him as I went. The personnel on the Splash project was unique as were some of the tracks. The most important thing is that, Freddie Hubbard was satisfied. He jokingly said it gave him a break from playing ‘Frankenstein Music’ –it was an inside joke that we had about him having been playing so much stuff with big bands and orchestras both live and on record; he said, it begin to sound like the old black and white horror movie scores to him. He also noted that it was a needed change of pace from the hard hitting straight ahead stuff his small group played most of the time. On Splash, he wanted to be loose!

Coda:

There were so many other little and large things along the way that happened that I’ve lost to time, but this gives you some insight into my association with Freddie. It is known that Freddie had a temper and had ‘his ways’. I remember him getting into a fist fight at a big hotel in Century City because he thought the bass player had ‘fucked up the gig’. It was his showcase for his debut Columbia Records album. He wanted one thing more than anything else when he was playing– energy! Whether it was a ballad or uptempo. He played with fire and that fire had to be matched. I remember doing a gig with a band he put together for something Kareem Abdul-Jabbar–they were close friends–was doing. Not only did I get a chance to meet the ‘big man’, but, Milt Jackson was also added to the band for that date. Freddie attracted folk. At some point we drifted apart, but stayed in touch. As a matter of fact, we played on the same bill at the Jacksonville Jazz Festival (1984); I co-led a local band and he was with a college band as a soloist. After that I saw and spoke with him only one more time. I was spending almost all of my time in Jacksonville and he was one of the headliners on a Jazz Legends concert, along with the likes of Jimmy Smith. I had ventured into other areas by then and had a regionally syndicated radio music program. I asked him and Jimmy to do an interview with me. Jimmy showed, but really wasn’t into the interview–his mind was on other things. Freddie seemed uninterested and never showed. I chatted with him briefly, after the show. The subject of the interview never came up. I will say this: Some of the best times of my musical life were spent working with Freddie Hubbard.

(photos: Freddie Hubbard, Sanifu Hall and Cynthia Faulkner[co-writer of You’re Gonna Lose Me] at Hit City West; Splash liner notes and Down Beat ad for Liquid Love)

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You’re Gonna Lose Me from the LP Splash:

 

Kuntu from the LP Liquid Love:

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My times with the Ray Charles Orchestra

Ray & Al 

In 1970 I decided to move away from my hometown of Jacksonville,FL, where I had a decent day job and a, somewhat, active music career–on a local level; I led a band and did studio work, as well as working with the local symphony orchestra, as a 3rd trombonist when the score called for an additional player. I plan to detail what it was like for me as a ‘local’ musician in a future post. This post will give some insight on my move to Los Angeles,….. I had great experiences while I was based there and I will revisit some of them via upcoming blogs. This one focuses on my work with Ray Charles.

After debating with myself whether to try New York or LA, I decided on LA. I do like New York–but, for me, only for a visit. Plus, I had lots of ‘home boys’ on the west coast at the time; among them was Lionel “Billy” Moore (others included Von Barlow and Allen Jackson). Billy had been one of Jacksonville’s noted band directors and a master percussionist. After moving to LA and having played drums in Ray Charles’ band, he suggested that I audition for a spot. He arranged for me to meet and introduced me to R.C. and I was invited to the auditions. I had begun to establish myself in LA and wanted to stay in town; but, a chance to work with Ray Charles– I didn’t want to pass on that. So, on the day of auditions at the RPM studios, I showed up.., and it was something. Many of the band members were there as well as those hoping to become members. Some I knew—like Andrew ‘Andy’ Ennis, who I’d met a decade before while we were stationed a the Naval School of Music’s Army Element Band School; some I had heard of and others I didn’t have a clue about. The band was set up—seats, stands with the folders containing the band’s famous repertoire. It was sort of interesting how the audition went down.

The auditions took on a ‘jam session’ feel, with lots of fun, trash talking, joking, etc…….but, the music was serious. While some of the seats(positions) were already filled by returning and long time band members, everybody there got a chance to play. Some of the musicians played their asses off, but do to the fact that the seats they were going for were already filled, they didn’t make the band. The trombone section, four players and parts—for which I was auditioning—had two openings. Fred Murrell, a long time band member and good friends with Ray had the 3rd seat and Glenn ‘Champ’ Childress held down the 2nd (solo) spot. Knowing this, and not having a bass trombone, the the 4th part was not an option. That left only the 1st (lead) spot open. The lead seat is a hot one; but, I had no choice. If I wanted to make the band, I had to get that seat. Several players went for the lead chair that day—some of which had lead experience and great ‘chops’–meaning they had endurance and could play. After all factors were considered—including the pay (some guys would rather not go on the road, if they could make as much or more staying home), dependability, etc.– I got the gig. Steve Turre won the 4th chair, he was more of a soloist, but he had a bass trombone and, like me, wanted a chance to be a part of the Ray

Charles’ Organization.

MUSIC:

The band folder contained an array of ‘charts’; ranging from Ray’s hits to small band arrangements. The hits were either as originally recorded or closely arranged thereto. The book also contained a number of band only entries, arranged a/o composed by a who’s who list. Small band pieces were always for backing Ray with a combo sound—usually a rhythm section and four or five horns. As to that who’s who list mentioned; it included names like Quincy Jones, Oliver Nelson, Neil Hefti, Billy Byers, Rene Hall, etc.

Many LA based arrangers—including Arf Clausen, Mike Post, Pete Carpenter, and Rodger Neumann—would come in and audition music at Ray’s request or attempting to sell a piece to the orchestra. The band’s folder was vast and it was hard to add to it. One of my high points was that I had two of my arrangements make the cut. With the success of the movie Shaft and the popularity of Isaac Hayes’ music score; and almost everybody covering the theme song. I asked baritone sax man and director Leroy Cooper( a very close personal friend of Ray’s) to ask Ray if he would consider a couple of the more ‘jazzy’ selections from that score for the band. Cooper did ask, and a few days later he came to me and said, Ray wants to see you. ……., I went to see him and he said, ‘Leroy told me you wanted to do some music for the band,….what you got in mind?’ I said, ‘Well I’d like to try two arrangements from Shaft– Bumpy’s Blues and No Name Bar—I think they would work and since the music is current and might fit well on some of the band portion of our shows’. After a few moments, Ray said, ‘Okay man, I ain’t promising nothin’, but you bring ’em in and I’ll listen; if I like ’em I’ll buy ’em and we’ll play ’em.’

Things worked—we played ’em! Weeks later Leroy come over to me and said, ‘Ray likes the charts, I know that because he didn’t change anything.’ It was well know that if Ray didn’t like a particular phrase or voicing, he made a change, regardless of who the arranger was.

PERSONNEL:

The trombone section, mentioned previously, stayed intact for the complete touring season. The reed section remained intact also; all of them doubled on flute, accept baritone sax player Leroy Cooper, and one also doubled the clarinet. Don Garcia, played lead alto sax, the other alto player was Fred Smith; and the tenors were Andy Ennis and James Clay. The trumpet section consisted of Tony Ferrell (lead), Mike Conlon, Tommy ‘Cab’ Cortez and Tommy Turrentine. The rhythm section was anchored by drummer John Perrett; Ed Willis (section leaded) was the bassist and Ralph Byrd played guitar.

On rare occasions musicians would fill-in or sit-in with Ray’s approval—including Billy Preston, Blue Mitchell, Francois Vaz, Marcus Belgrave, John Henderson, Joe Mitchell and Lenard ‘Len’ Bowie and a few others.

On almost all shows the Raelettes performed along with the band; three or four background singers with occasional lead work by Mable John and Susaye Green. Ray once said of the Raylettes: Most of my hits always had ‘dem gurls on ’em.’

Joe Adams, Ray’s long time manager, two pilots—when we used the band’s turbo-prop plane (aka ‘The Buzzard’) owned by the Ray Charles’ Company; a valet and at times additional support staff–such as Harold Patton–, as needed, were there too.

VENUES:

Ray’s itinerary had gigs galore. We played one -nighters, clubs, jazz festivals, theaters (indoor and outdoor), and matinees throughout the U.S., Canada, Europe(east & west) as well as Lebanon and Israel. Most of the European shows were promoted by Norman Granz. Both stateside and abroad we used a ‘hub’ at times—based at a city and bus or train to nearby locations. Sometimes we had a day or more off and were free to do as we wished, within band rules guidelines of course.

It was always a pleasure bumping into musicians from other bands and meeting interesting people, and seeing new things, in general. The B.B. King band was one, Dizzy Gillespie along with many others; as we were booked on the same nights at most of the jazz festivals played.

The European tour included; London, Paris, Berlin, Madrid, Milan, Belgrade, Amsterdam and other shows in outlying regions—btw, arriving at the hotel in Rotterdam was fun; we were met in the lobby by a couple of gents peddling weed and porn; after check in, they invited us to the bar for drinks as they provided samples of their product(s)–all legally.

Being ‘on the road’ was a challenge—at times. But, the experience, music, camaraderie and plain old fun, far out weighed it; most of all, working with the legendary and masterful Ray Charles.

THOUGHTS and QUOTES:

These are some memorable things I remember being said by Ray and other band members—some are obvious and the others ‘inside’.

Ray: ‘Watch my foot son’

Ray: ‘I might not can see it; but I damn sho’ can feel it’

Ray: When asked by a reporter, how important the Raelettes were(?); he answered: …….’If you listen to all of my hits, you’ll hear dem three or four gurls singin’ on em’.

Band members to each other regarding how much fun and enjoyment the band gave us: ‘Wonder what the poor folks are doing right now’?.

Me and Steve Turre (inside): ‘Every refrigerator is not a Frigidaire.’

Ray: One day a group of band members were discussing watching television in our hotel rooms, Ray overheard it and said: ‘I like watching Days of Our Lives myself’

John Perrett: Whenever, we went to a restaurant and John came along, we’d let him place the order. He had a way with waiters and waitresses. He always ended by saying: ‘Now, with our wine, bring us lots of bread and lots & lots of butter’

Fred Smith: We went into a hotel dinning room in Spain and the maitre d was decked out—full tuxedo and all. …..; As Fred walked pass, he said ‘What’s up Drack’?…………….After we were seated, we asked him why he had said that, Fred replied: ‘That motherfucker looks like Count Dracula’!

Ray: “Bob[pilot], are we gonna get some ‘weather’?”–………….Although its been said that Ray use to fly the plane some times, I can’t confirm that. However, he loved to be in the cockpit during thunderstorms……Most of the rest of us, generally, hated flying in those conditions.

This is but a small sample; as you might imagine, this could go on and on—but, hopefully, you get the picture.

A final memorable personal experience I’ll mention here is: I remember after having played a gig in Florida, the band was flying to Ohio—I think—and had three or four days off. I asked Ray, if I could stay and visit my mother and family in Jacksonville and meet up with band on gig day. He not only agreed to my request; but, gave me a salary ‘advance’ to boot………. ‘Just don’t be late man!’ …….. What can I say……(?)

PERFORMANCES and RESHEARSALS:

It was a joy playing with this band and Ray on these gigs as they went. The Band always opened the shows; sometime we also had a local M.C., manager Joe Adams—introducing Ray, or Aaron and Freddie—a great ventriloquist act– also. Aaron had a great relationship with the band and sometimes, even let the guys have interplay with Freddie for fun, from time to time. On rare occasions, Ray would play his alto sax (as soloist) with the band on one of the normal, four or five, selections played before he did the main show.

As for rehearsals, once on the road, we only did it when a new piece was added to the book; Ray or Leroy wanted to clear something up in a arrangement. Otherwise, the sound checks served as rehearsals. Sometimes Joe Adams would call a meeting to address band issues a/o Ray’s concern about about the music or the tour—but, that was rare. Once the ship set sail, it was pretty smooth as it went.

A few interesting side notes here: Ray had some interesting ways of getting some songs started; for instance, he never counted off ( nor did Ed or Leroy) the song The Long and Winding Road. He would just sing (a capella) …., ‘The Long,……and Winding Road’…….pause, then nod his head—that was the downbeat!

He would call out; ‘Bring It’!…..than meant that the Fender Rhodes would be setup next to his grand piano. Ray never had the electric piano onstage otherwise. Only once did he play organ on tour. That was the time Billy Preston joined the band for a couple of shows and Ray jammed with him on the Hammond B3. I gotta tell ya,……………. the house actually shook that night! Sometimes Ray would change the set show order or do an encore; many times it [the song] would be ‘Georgia On My Mind’…… He would just say softly into the mic. ….’ Every time I sing this song’……….pause[no count off], and start into the verse. One thing is certain, being a part of the Ray Charles Orchestra meant you had to always be on your P’s & Q’s. Reed man Andy Ennis once said, about Brother Ray’s keen musical ears: ……..’He can hear a mosquito pissin’ on cotton’!

CODA:

I’ve tried to tell this like I remembered. There were some personal issues with some of the members regarding drugs and alcohol. But, its a matter I don’t care to discuss. I will say that they found a way to handle their situations and the show went on. Many members were married. Either way, ladies always found a way to meet you if they wanted. I’d say a couple of incidents came up; nothing on the serious side though. We looked out for each other. As for Ray, I never saw him drunk or high. He loved his Bols; but, he was always cool as he went—about the business of being Ray Charles; master musician, leader and Man.

As the tour season headed towards its end; I had to begin to think about staying with the band. That was decided for me, in a way; …..because, along with a couple of other band members, I was a part of, had a salary dispute when the tour ended. Having to appear at a musician’s union arbitration; I decided not to return to the band and, to my knowledge, the other members involved didn’t either. Still, I wanted, and felt compelled, to leave on good terms. The members won the dispute and we were paid the disputed salaries.

I came into contact with Ray at his studio on several occasions afterward—a never released project for Leroy Cooper, and a LP for Billy Brooks (Windows of the Mind). I had a chance to speak to him during my first session and I told him, ……I hoped there was no animosity. Ray basically said,…. look man, that’s in the past and it was business and had nothing to do with music;…….. that was it.

The last time I communicated with Brother Ray was around 1989—I sent him a cassette copy of a song he had given me permission to record during a performance called ‘Yours’, on a two track stereo cassette machine I use to take on the road. Several weeks later, I received a postcard with a RPM Studios return address simply saying: Thanks Man (typed).

As I complete what has been fun and a bit of a task, I’ll say this; I am not a journalist, professional blogger nor do I claim to be proficient in grammatical and linguistic precision. Just a former band member sharing memories. Stay tuned; from time to time, I will update as new information and memory allows. Also, photos and links will follow. Hope you enjoyed it, as I went.

Sanifu Al Hall, Jr.

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