Ray Charles - Live At The Olympia, Paris DVD (2000) & the Movie Ray (2004)

Saturday Video Fun: In general I detest biopics; I would much rather see a documentary biography with real footage of the real person. There is certainly enough film of Ray Charles to tell his life story, but I'm here to tell you that the movie Ray is the best biopic I have ever seen. Jamie Foxx is so good in the part that it's easy to forget that you're watching an actor. The movie does everything right from the casting to the acting, the script, the music, the cinematography, and the direction; it's all first rate movie making about a true musical genius.

So I had just finished screening Ray for someone who had not seen it, and I was of a mind to post some live Ray Charles clips to Facebook. Checking to see what I could find on YouTube, I ran across some clips that I had never seen before. I was initially taken by the quality of the performances, plus they had terrific picture and sound. Like so.

Maybe because I was wrapped up in Ray's performance of "I've Got A Woman", I didn't notice at first that the instrumentation on this clip was highly unusual, no horns, no big band, no Raelettes. It was just Ray on keyboard and vocals, backed with his trio of guitar, bass, and drums. The DVD package explains;

This concert was supposed to be a very emotional moment for Ray Charles. It was his 70th birthday, it was his first tour in this new millennium. This night, Ray Charles was supposed to play with his "big band" and his "Raelettes" but due to an air traffic controllers lightning strike in Lisbon, his famous Big Band and The Raelettes were stuck at the airport. So, the day of the concert, Ray arrived in Paris with a drummer, a guitar player and a bass player. They worked out a new show, set list and arrangements in the hotel room and came on stage late. It results a fantastic DVD of this unique "unplugged" concert recorded in 5.1, with a rare emotion and sensibility.

Ray did live performances for over sixty years and except at the very beginning, all of them used his big band and his backup singers, the Raelettes. On this one occasion, we have the privilege of seeing Ray perform with a very small jazz ensemble. This was an incredibly rare treat for the audience and we are likewise privileged to enjoy this show on DVD. Ray clearly enjoyed playing that keyboard and using it to sound like everything from a piano to a vibraphone, and at one point he even played with a guitar sound.

The small band format allowed Ray to really stretch out on the keyboard and play some intros and solos that we would never normally hear. The electric guitarist was really good and got his share of solos as well. Even the bass player and the drummer took solos. Because of this accompaniment, Ray threw out the usual set list and played some standards and other songs that you wouldn't normally hear at a Ray Charles concert.
  1. Intro
  2. Untitled instrumental (the title on the DVD box is wrong)
  3. Just The Way You Look Tonight (instrumental)
  4. Route 66
  5. A Song For You
  6. Hallelujah I Just Love Her So
  7. Georgia On My Mind
  8. Stranger In My Own Home Town
  9. Angelina
  10. I've Got A Woman
  11. Hey Girl
  12. Almost Like Being In Love Again
  13. Just For A Thrill
  14. It Had To Be You
  15. What'd I Say
The concert was significant beyond it being Ray's 70th birthday, it was also his return to the Olympia Theater, forty years after he had first played there. For all these reasons, they had arranged to film the concert and we are in their debt because someone made the decision to go on with the plans to record the show, even though most of the band and singers could not be there. We are also the beneficiaries of the amazing camera work and sound quality of the recording. From a technical standpoint, this is far and away the best looking and best sounding video of Ray that I've ever seen. The set list avoided most of the songs that utilized the Raelettes, until the end of the show when he closed with "What'd I Say" and he asked the audience to fill in. Enjoy.

From the artistic to the technical triumphs, this DVD is a total knockout and my favorite of all the concert videos that were shot of Ray. For a bonus video this week, it's the theatrical trailer for the movie Ray. If you haven't seen it, put it on your must list.


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