A Great Ray Charles Tribute Album
Bruce Von Stiers
The University of Central Florida has a noted jazz studies program. Out of that program is a big band styled group called The Flying Horse Big Band. The band has recorded several album, most of them theme based. They had an album with college related tunes and one featuring songs by jazz masters such as Miles Davis and John Coltrane. The band even had a Batman themed album.
The band has once again come up with a themed album. This one celebrates the music of Ray Charles and his youth and early career in Florida. The title of the album is Florida Rays. The album features thirteen songs and has a play time of one minute under an hour. The album was released on the Flying Horse Records label.
This album was directed by Jeff Rupert. Besides being the director of the jazz studies program at the University of Central Florida, Rupert has played saxophone for artists such as Diane Schuur and Mel Torme. He has also recorded with his own group and a host of other artists. And Rupert was also the founder of the Flying Horse Records label, which not only promotes the students of the university’s jazz studies program but it’s faculty as well.
For this album, The Flying Horse Big Band has four specific sections. They are saxophone, trumpet, trombone and the rhythm section. For the saxophones, there are Decian Ward and Andy Garcia on alto, Justin Dudley on baritone and Ryan Devlin doing solo bits on tenor. Dylan Hannan also does a solo tenor bit on one song. In the trumpet section, there is Marco Rivera, Matt Pieper,Kaylie Genton and Randy Le. The trombone section has Jacob Henderson and Garrett Gavin. There is also Jeremiah St. John doing solos on two songs and Christian Herrera also having two solos. The rhythm section features Colin Oliver and Carl Fleitz on piano and Hammond organ. Devon Costanza is on drums and Michael Santos is on acoustic and electric bass. Daniel Howard has guitar solos on five songs on the album. Additional musicians helping out are Marty Morell on percussion for two songs. And Richard Drexler does the piano intro for one song and Vance Villastrigo is on piano for a different song.
Providing vocals for the album are Rob Paparozzi, Vance Villastrigo, DaVonda Simmons and Khristian Dentley.
In 1961, the song One Mint Julep hit the mainstream music scene. That was due to Ray Charles having a number one R & B hit with the song that year. This is the first song that is on the album. Horn music provides a nice toe tapping mode for the song’s intro. Then there is a terrific guitar solo during the course of the song.
Also in 1961, Ray Charles had a hit with Let The Good Times Roll. The band does a nice job with this classic.
In 1957, Ray Charles released a self-titled album. This album contained a song he wrote, Hallelujah I Love Her So. It is a fun, smile effecting, toe tapping tune.
Originally a country song written by Hank Snow, I’m Movin’ On was a hit for Charles in 1959.A toe tapping beat starts out the song. Then the vocals are fluid in front of the music. There is a great sax solo in the song.
Becoming the first charted hit for Charles on the Atlantic record label, It Should Have Been Me is a fun tune about how he should have had those fine women other guys got. A cool guitar solo can be found in the middle of the song.
Lonely Avenue was a song written by Don Pomus that became an R & B hit for Charles in 1956. This rendition has an almost big band sound as its intro. Then things slow down a bit for a smooth female led vocal piece.
What’d I Say is supposedly the song that moved Charles from the R & B charts to the Pop charts. Some killer horn music is in the song along with great vocals.
Eddy Arnold recorded the song, You Don’t Know Me in the mid 1950’s. But it was Charles who had a mainstream hit with the song in 1962. A slow and heart breaking tone can be heard in this rendition.
The album also includes a super cool rendition of the Herbie Hancock song, Watermelon Man.
In 1975 Charles did a bit on Sesame Street with Kermit the Frog. Their collaboration was Kermit’s signature song (It’s Not Easy) Bein’ Green. Here the song has a subtle intro and mellow, yet almost aching vocals.
Margie Hendrix had a number one hit, along with Charles, in 1961 with Hit The Road, Jack. The band does a great job with this classic tune. And there is some nice harmonica in the song provided by Rob Paparozzi.
Busted is a Harlan Howard song that was recorded by several artists, including Charles. The vocalist comes real close to the tone that Charles evoked on his rendition of the song.
The band’s rendition of Unchain My Heart is similar to Charles. But there are no backing vocals as when Charles recorded the song.
I like the music of Ray Charles. And I have enjoyed music from the Flying Horse Big Band. I was sure that the band’s tribute to Ray Charles would be really good. And it is. Florida Rays catches the essence of Ray Charles’ music with a touch or two of the band’s own styling.
Florida Rays is available directly from the Flying Horse Records web sites. That site can be found at https://flyinghorserecords.com/ . Digital downloads of the album are available at various outlets along with streaming services.