Doing right by Ray Charles

Sally Stevens
Sat Mar 5 01:42:36 EST 2005

I didn't make it to this...tix were a bit pricey ...but some was broadcast live
on WWOZ, which I did listen was great.  Davell Crawford is absolutely
one of my favorites....Sal
Doing right by Ray Charles

Davell Crawford creates a concert to savor the icon's music
Friday, March 04, 2004
Times-Picayune By Keith Spera Music writer

When Ray Charles graced a corporate party at the House of Blues years ago,
local R&B, gospel and jazz pianist and vocalist Davell Crawford managed to get
backstage. He found himself alone in the dressing room with one of his idols.
But instead of introducing himself, the normally irrepressible Crawford sat
quietly, unable to muster the nerve even to announce his presence.
"I didn't want to say anything," he recalled this week. "I didn't even let him
know I was there. I don't know why. That's probably the only person that that
ever happened with. I didn't feel I was worthy, or I didn't feel it was the
right time.
"Ray Charles meant a helluva lot to me. It took me a good while to get over his
Crawford could not meet Charles then, but is eager to celebrate his music now.
Tonight at Tipitina's, Crawford will lead the 20-piece Davell Crawford
Orchestra in a tribute to Ray Charles.
Crawford is intimately familiar with the vast Charles catalog, even
lesser-known selections buried deep on obscure albums. But tonight's
performance, with Crawford's piano augmented by 15 horns, a five-piece rhythm
section and a troupe of female backing vocalists, will mostly feature popular
highlights: "What'd I Say," "Busted," "Bye Bye Love," "Let the Good Times
Roll," "Georgia on My Mind," "America," "Hit the Road Jack," "I've Got a
Ray Charles intersects frequently with Crawford family history. "You can
basically talk to anybody in my family," Davell said, "and they can give you
His grandfather, James "Sugarboy" Crawford, was a New Orleans rhythm and blues
star of the 1950s whose recording of "Jockamo" is among the genre's enduring
classics. Sugarboy opened shows for Charles and hung out with him on Duels
Street in the 7th Ward.
When Davell's mother was eight months pregnant with him, she attended a Ray
Charles show. Her unborn son "jumped around and jumped around," Crawford said.
"I've heard that story since I was a kid." As a toddler, his grandmother took
him to see Charles at the Saenger Theatre. Crawford vividly recalls wishing for
the Lord to restore Ray's sight.
During frequent family commutes between New Orleans and Lafayette when he was a
young boy, Crawford soaked in the Charles album "True To Life," as he did
cassette recordings by Dionne Warwick, Crystal Gayle and Kenny Rogers and
Dottie West.
Not surprisingly, Crawford's own music draws on many of the same sources as
Charles'. Gospel, jazz, rhythm and blues and pop all factor into the mix; he is
equally comfortable with a quiet jazz ballad as he is a gospel rave-up. Despite
his grandfather's history, New Orleans music wasn't Crawford's natural
inclination. He only learned "Blueberry Hill" and other local standards from
New Orleans musicians on the road.
Like Charles, Crawford realized his talents early; by age 13, he was touring
with a large band. His travels often took him to Brazil and Europe. He and
Charles would play the same circuit, days apart.
During a 1993 tour of Brazil, Crawford recorded a live version of "Georgia."
Charles heard it and discovered that the voice on the recording belonged to his
old friend Sugarboy's grandson. From that point, Crawford says, he would
sometimes arrive in a town soon after Charles had departed and receive an
encouraging word Charles left behind with a concert promoter.
Given such connections, Crawford is well suited to mount a Charles tribute. He
and saxophonist Roderick Paulin wrote arrangements for a horn section populated
by some of the city's best jazz and R&B musicians, including trombonists
Delfeayo Marsalis, Rick Trolsen, Steve Walker and Eric Traub, trumpeters
Wendell Brunious, Leon "Chocolate" Brown and Andrew Baham, and saxophonists
Rebecca Barry, Stephen Foster and Gregory Dawson. They join a rhythm section
featuring bassist Mark Brooks, Hammond B-3 organist Thaddeus Richard and
drummer Herman Lebeaux.
Their set will approximate the soundtrack of the biopic "Ray." Crawford says he
received a call early in the casting of "Ray," asking him to audition for the
lead role; he declined. And don't look for Crawford to reprise Jamie Foxx's
Oscar-winning portrayal of Charles onstage tonight.
"I'm not portraying Ray Charles. I'm not wearing glasses. I don't sing like Ray
Charles. I could never have as much soul as Ray Charles. I thank God for the
soul I was born with. I have my own soul, my own voice, my own spirit."
He'll apply those to Charles' repertoire tonight.
"We want to toast Ray Charles off the right way from the city of New Orleans,"
he said. "And toast Jamie Foxx and (director) Taylor Hackford for putting
together a fabulous portrayal of probably the greatest American icon that soul,
country, blues and jazz has to offer."


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