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New Ray Charles transcription book


Josh Paxton

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I just picked up the new Ray Charles 80th Anniversary Sheet Music Collection. And for any reading musician who's remotely into Ray, I highly recommend it.

 

To put my comments into perspective: I am a major Ray Charles fan. I've transcribed a bunch of his music myself over the years -- mostly piano parts, but also horn parts, bass lines, you name it. And I'm a pretty severe critic of a lot of piano transcription books, having done 7 or 8 of them myself for Hal Leonard's jazz series. Given all that, I was more than half expecting to go through this book and say, "That's wrong, that's wrong, that's not even close, that's so far off it's embarrassing, what the hell were these people thinking?" So I was very pleasantly surprised when that was not my reaction at all. In fact while there are some minor points I could find fault with, overall I'm pretty damn impressed with this collection.

 

It's a hefty volume, with 28 tunes and 180 pages. Every tune has the piano part on a grand staff, and the vocal part on its own separate staff above, so these are not cheesy "piano/vocal" arrangements. However, not all of the piano parts are literal transcriptions of Ray's playing either; some are, but sometimes they incorporate other instrumental parts as well. For instance, the string intro to "Georgia" is arranged for piano, though on the recording there's no piano in the intro at all. The good news is that when this happens, it's done well. The even better news is that when there are non-piano instrumental solos, they're written out in the vocal line, with Ray's accompaniment underneath (including a Billy Preston organ solo, yes!).

 

As for the accuracy of the piano parts, again I have to say I'm impressed. I haven't been through the entire thing with a fine-toothed comb, but for the tunes I've checked out that I'm most familiar with, they pretty much seem to have nailed it (even for the fairly dense and counterintuitive parts, like the voicings in the intro to "Hallelujah I Love Her So"). I found a few spots that made me say "Hmmm" and want to go back and check the recording, but so far I haven't spotted anything that I thought was flat-out wrong. And the things I have found questionable would probably only matter to people with my level of Ray Charles snobbery and obsession; things like "I don't think he plays the fifth in that voicing," or "That should be a triplet, not two sixteenths and an eighth." But overall the transcriptions absolutely capture the essence of Ray's playing, and any pianist looking to get a handle on it would be a fool not to get this.

 

Minor points I take issue with: The song selection, which spans most of his career, is generally good, but with a few exceptions. I realize that with an output as vast as Ray's, no collection of 28 songs would please everyone. Still, I thought omitting "Drown In My Own Tears" while including two Christmas songs and his cover of Van Morrison's "Crazy Love" was just, well, crazy. And I would have liked to see a couple of his instrumental jazz cuts from the Genius After Hours era, though I realize that's far from the most marketable section of his catalog. As it is, the closest thing is "One Mint Julep," with the horn parts arranged for piano. A couple of his early Swingtime cuts would have been nice too since, even if his work was more derivative back then, it contained a whole lot of stellar piano playing. Oh, and the iconic tenor solo in "I Got A Woman" is strangely absent, where several lesser solos are written out.

 

But as I said, those are minor faults with what is overall an incredibly useful and inspiring book -- one that I would have killed for 20 years ago. It's a little bittersweet to see it, because last year I saw a Ray retrospective on TV that talked about how the Ray Charles Foundation was turning his studio into a memorial library. At the time I thought, "You know, I really should contact them about doing a serious book of Ray transcriptions. Because the world needs one, and I could do it, and I'll bet they'd be into it." Then I completely failed to act on it. Now it seems I was too slow and someone else did. But whoever it was (not credited in the book) did a fine job, so I raise a glass to him/her/them, and I'm glad the book is out there.

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I'm a huge Ray fan as well.....going to order this book before my morning coffee.

Thank you for posting such a detailed review!

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Does it have the block chords to "Rock House" perhaps?

Gee, when you watch Ray play and try to imitate the feeling he gets and the minute articulations, that stuff is impossible to write down...!

www.dazzjazz.com

PhD in Jazz Organ Improvisation.

BMus (Hons) Jazz Piano.

1961 A100.Leslie 45 & 122. MAG P-2 Organ. Kawai K300J. Yamaha CP4. Moog Matriarch. KIWI-8P.

 

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Thanks for that review. Knowing your work, what you've written is high praise indeed! :thu:

"I'm so crazy, I don't know this is impossible! Hoo hoo!" - Daffy Duck

 

"The good news is that once you start piano you never have to worry about getting laid again. More time to practice!" - MOI

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Why did I "waste" all that time in High School learning his stuff if I could just read it (ahem) years later!

 

Not going to buy it, but I'll have a look if I see it at a shop. Hell, if I had an extra amount, I might pick it up just for novelty value.

 

Now that it's on -- did RC play "Drown In My Own Tears" in Db or C? I like Db fine, but because of the tenths LH I do it like everyone else in C or some other key that's not Db.

 

ETA what's up with the chords in "Rock House" -- I thought I was doing it fine for all my life. Am I missing something?

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ETA what's up with the chords in "Rock House" -- I thought I was doing it fine for all my life. Am I missing something?

 

no I'm pretty sure i have the chords right - but would be nice to have a 2nd opinion.

www.dazzjazz.com

PhD in Jazz Organ Improvisation.

BMus (Hons) Jazz Piano.

1961 A100.Leslie 45 & 122. MAG P-2 Organ. Kawai K300J. Yamaha CP4. Moog Matriarch. KIWI-8P.

 

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I was going through it again today and spotted a couple more problems I hadn't noticed at first. Contrary to what I said above, there are three tunes where the "piano part" really is just an arrangement of the vocal melody with some chords: "Hit the Road Jack," "I Got a Woman," and "Seven Spanish Angels." (In fact that last one seems be be an older arrangement from a book that came out in the '80s.) And they put "Let's Go Get Stoned" in C instead of D-flat. I would like to personally egg the car of whichever editor at the publishing company contributed to the musical dumbing-down of the population by making that decision.
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Any kind of ear and some gospel facility ought to be able to come up with a good version off the records. Just take it off the record - you'll know it's right. The thing about chording the chick singers is nuts - throw it out! The main thing Ray Charles grooved so deep-you can't transcribe his groove. Lordy Buying a transcription of his stuff is a waste of money - just sayin'
"Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown."
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