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Quotes: Ray Charles in His Own Words

On his official Web site, Ray Charles (search) offered his reflections on jazz, soul and rock as well as composing music.

Jazz Appreciation

I cannot understand how we as Americans, possessing such a rich heritage of music and the artists who play it, don't recognize all those talented people. It's a shame that so many of today's young people don't know the work of Art Tatum or Dizzy Gillespie or Charlie Parker or Clifford Brown, to name a few.

They are the creators; they are the artists who helped form the backbone of our country's popular music.... When you talk about, say, classical music, you're talking about a form that came from Europe and European composers and musicians from an earlier time. But, we basically created jazz in this country, we own that form of music. And it's sad that we all don't have more extensive knowledge of that fact....

In Europe, though, you find people who know all about our music. I'm talking about the average person. I've been to Europe and talked to people who have records of mine that I forgot I ever made! And I find that incredible.

The Origins of Rock

Basically, rock 'n' roll came into being when white artists and white bands started covering black music. That seems like a blunt way of putting it, and it may sound like I'm a racist, but I'm not; that's just the best way to explain it....

It started in the '50s, when you had popular singers like Pat Boone and Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins covering black music. They were doing songs first recorded by people like Little Richard and Chuck Berry. They just took rhythm-and-blues songs and did their own versions of them. And that sound became known as rock 'n' roll. I don't know exactly who came up with that name, but that's pretty much the way it went down....

When Elvis came along, he not only covered the music, but he was...well, he was moving his body on stage just like a black artist would. Now, in those days a black artist couldn't get away with doing that on stage for the teenagers of America, but Elvis got away with it. He was criticized at first, but he got away with it. He was just doing what he saw people doing down on Beale Street.

The Evolution of Soul

I don't think you could tag a certain year as the date that soul music appeared, because it didn't happen that way. It evolved over a period of time. Even today, you could ask five different people what it was and how it got started and get five different answers....

Originally, soul music had a strong element of the church, of spiritual music. It had a gospel music feeling, and then it incorporated the sound of blues music. That's soul's makeup: the fusion of gospel and blues, all mixed up together. It's the crossover of those forms of music that makes soul unique....

At first I got some criticism for playing soul music. Women sent me letters, accused me of being sacrilegious because they could pick out that gospel music was being incorporated into something that went beyond the sound they heard in church every week. They didn't realize at first how spiritual soul music could be....

And there were people who objected to soul being played on the radio because of the depth of feeling in the music. Some people thought it was too suggestive, and some thought it was just plain vulgar. But the feeling that comes through in the music --that's the essence of soul -- the word itself tells you that.

His Composing

Learning to read music in Braille and play by ear helped me develop a damn good memory. I can sit at my desk and write a whole arrangement in my head and never touch the piano. I bring in a sighted person and I dictate the notes, what kind of notes, where they're supposed to be, for what instrument, whether there's an F, whether it's a quarter note, whether it's an eighth note, a dotted quarter or whatever. I dictate the notes right here at my desk, and I never move because I play the piano, so I know what the chords are going to be.

I know what the structure is, I know how I want it to sound, and I can hear it in my head. But I have to remember what I had the reed section doing, what I had the trumpet section doing, and so on. If you're going to write an arrangement you've got to remember all those things....

I've never written or arranged anything I was unhappy with later. I know that sounds pretty boastful, but I've got to be truthful. Understand, now, that 99 percent of all arrangers play some piano. Piano is the basic thing to write music with. Since I am a pianist, I know which chords I want and what they are going to sound like, so it's up to me to make the decision on how I want the arrangement to sound. There's no reason for it to come out any different than the way it sounds in my head.

Source: www.raycharles.com