Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

March/April 2017: Neil Watson

Channeling Ray Charles: Craig Bailey, Wayne Holmes, and the Big dig! Band

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I think people may have forgotten what a chameleon Ray Charles was. He was an incredible singer, pianist, composer, arranger, and even an occasional saxophonist! He was also one of the first crossover artists, with hit recordings in jazz, blues, country, gospel, rock and roll, pop, and R&B. He had so many hits that you could play a ten-hour show of Ray Charles tunes and not repeat a thing. Frank Sinatra once described him as a musical genius—and he was right!

I’m very excited that the Big dig! Band will host the Ray Charles tribute concert this April as the closer for the Asper Jazz Performances series. Returning to Winnipeg for this concert is saxophonist Craig Bailey, a great favourite with audiences and students alike. Craig served as Ray’s lead alto saxophonist and musical director for over twenty years, and has toured with other alumni since his passing in 2004. Craig knows the repertoire inside out, and he will channel that infectious warmth and style we all associate with Ray’s songs. Who knows—he might even throw in a Ray Charles impression or two during the show. It’s happened before! Filling the piano chair is the wonderful pianist and vocalist Wayne Holmes. Craig has raved about him, so I’m very excited to have a chance to hear him and work with him.

I believe the Big dig! Band is the only band in Canada which can do Ray Charles’ music justice. Ray led his band from the piano, and his bass and drummer had to know and understand tempo. There is no better quarter note within a thousand-mile radius than Steve Kirby and Quincy Davis. They know this music, they understand the style and feel, and they’ll bring fire and energy to the bandstand. On top of that rhythm foundation will be our horn section, directed by Craig Bailey. He’ll impart to us the phrasing, inflection and interpretation he learned from his tenure in Ray’s band. You can’t get closer to the source than that!

The Ray Charles Tribute will be an unforgettable experience. Mark your calendars for April 15, then strap yourself in and prepare to be entertained!

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