Last week I read an article that said jazz is dying. I know this isn’t true, because I have witnessed the music and the magic of jazz. Not only can its power change culture, it can unite communities. The day was September 23, 1991 a cold brisk fall day. It was a small room just about thirty feet long. It was called the Blue Note Club on West 3rd Street. There were about sixty to seventy people in this small venue. We were packed into the club like sardines in a can. Even though there were so many people it still felt intimate. I felt as though it was just me and him in the club. Just Ray and I. He started by singing “Georgia, Georgia the whole day through. Just a sweet old song. Keeps Georgia on my mind”. He sang Georgia on my mind. I was so close I could hear his foot tap on the ground. You felt him pounding the piano. Even though he is blind his hands moved as though he could see everything. He moved fluidly as if he was moving his hands through water. His hands were large reaching across the piano keys. His smile big and wide. Often in jazz clubs, there would be some cacophony but none of that. The room was foggy with smoke, and smelled of whiskey. All of us were strangers yet we united as friends over the music which filled the room. Everyone there was focused, focused on his hands, listening to every note. Even the bartenders and the wait staff stood still. It was quiet everyone in awe. He was a legend, I knew there wouldn’t be many more intimate concerts like this with Ray.
I remember him wearing quite a simple suit, just black with a white shirt, with a black bowtie. After Georgia on my Mind he sang I got a woman. He sang a couple more songs, every song changed the mood in the club. After every song the audience would look at each other in awe, we all felt so alive. We all knew how special tonight was.
I was in one of the most famous jazz clubs in New York with one of the most famous jazz musicians of all time, It was a dream come true. We sixty people were the lucky ones. He would do lots of small sessions each about forty minutes long. He would sing just about seven songs each wowing the audience, he had his band and his backup singers with him. After those forty minutes the next group would come in. And again he would sing. I was at the first show, the early show at ten pm.
Now that was quite a long time ago. And after reading that article it really made me upset. Jazz is not dead because we have musicians like Ray Charles who hearing his voice on the radio can even give you chills. Even though he has passed his music will live on forever. His music will never die, and jazz will never die. In 1991, in the Blue Note Club in New York City listening to him sing was the most lively thing I’ve ever done. If you have a chance I would go to a jazz club, hearing your favorite musicians sing live, seeing them sweat, having their smiles flash at you, not only hearing their music but feeling like your apart of their music. That is the definition of alive. Jazz is not the past, it's the future. That's what’s kept Georgia on my mind.