Carline Ray, born in 1925, passed away on July 18, 2013 at age 88.
liner notes by producer Catherine Russell
In a recent conversation with my mother, after she had listened to the mixes of songs on this album, she commented, “This sounds good!”. Well, as her only child this was music to my ears!!! You see, while Carline is known primarily as a bassist, she is also a singer with a deeply moving contralto voice and close to a five-octave range. And on this CD-- my first project as producer -- we are happy to share this with you.
Carline Ray was born in Harlem in 1925 --the height of the Harlem Renaissance. Her father, Elisha Ray, played brass with James Reese Europe, the legendary composer and orchestra leader. So Carline’s roots in the music are rich and deep!
As a native of Harlem, Carline brings her unique perspective to everything she sings -- a mixture of jazz expression and classical vocal training that one doesn’t get to hear much these days.
One can feel her whole life in these songs - the African American 20th century experience juxtaposed with the spirit and attitudes of a very independent and determined woman! Add to that mix the fact that she graduated from both the Juilliard School of Music and the Manhattan School of Music. Wow!
Carline is a true pioneer in so many aspects of her life. In the mid- to late- 1940s, she was band guitarist and one of the vocalists with the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, and later she was featured vocalist with the Erskine Hawkins big band. She was the only woman to play bass with Sy Oliver’s Orchestra during his longstanding engagement at The Rainbow Room. (She says Sy Oliver liked working with her because she played what he wrote without embellishment -- she just read what was on the page.)
As we discussed this album concept, Carline expressed the simple idea of singing songs she loved. Two of the songs, she had recorded with the great pianist/composer Mary Lou Williams; others she had sung on different programs throughout the years. All had become popular with her audiences. We chose musicians that she felt comfortable working with, musicians that understood how to best support such a powerful and unique voice and spirit.
I learned something else very valuable while producing this CD: Carline is a ‘one take’ vocalist. She sings the song all the way through with such confidence! The final decision rested on which whole take spoke to us the most. They were all good! That concept hardly exists in the 21st century recording world.
Our journey begins with “When I Grow Too Old To Dream”, followed by “Donna Lee/Back Home In Indiana”. One can feel the playfulness and sincerity in Carline’s delivery, backed by the loving and supportive piano trio.
Carline always loved singing ballads, and throughout this album one is touched by her heart-opening interpretations of the Bernstein/Sondheim classic “Somewhere”, Ellington’s “Come Sunday”, and Thaddeus Jones’ “A Child Is Born”, with beautiful lyrics by Alec Wilder. These songs are delivered with Carline’s hauntingly personal touch coupled with Yuka Aikawa’s beautiful arrangements.
Carline also worked closely with Mary Lou Williams in recording her original “Mary Lou’s Mass”, and here she recreates her two solos from the Mass, “Lazarus” and “Our Father”, with a more intimate instrumental approach.
As for the two duets we did on the CD, I had asked my mother about singing the gospel song “The Land Beyond The River”, inspired by the Marie Knight version from the 1940s. She liked the lyrics and the idea of recording this with me! I also got the chance to record the traditional spiritual “Hold On” with her, which I had heard her sing for several years with the Lance Hayward Singers.
Finally, “Lucille” is a bonus track that we added. It was written in 1961 by my dad Luis Russell (Carline’s husband) for Louis Armstrong to record, which never came to pass. Carline recorded the demo, which was submitted to Louis Armstrong in the hopes that Satchmo would sing it to his wife, Lucille.
At the end of this journey, one feels closer to Carline Ray. She put her heart and soul into this project. These tracks were recorded between February, 2008 and May, 2011, while Carline was in her 80s. She was excited to go into the studio, and she filled every minute of the recording sessions with joy.
We hope that you enjoy “Carline Ray -- Vocal Sides”.
Catherine Russell, New York City 2013
Review Clips / What The Critics Are Saying:
****Four Stars, "Ray had a full, caramel-rich voice with a dramatic dimension...she and her daughter together kindled a sense of faith-inspired joy and contentment..." - Frank-John Hadley, Downbeat
"Vocal Sides is a masterful achievement" - C. Michael Bailey, allaboutjazz.com
"Her voice is simply magnificent, with a stunning version of Duke Ellington's Come Sunday. Highly Recommended." - Thomas Cunniffe, jazzhistoryonline.com
"the album (produced by Ms. Russell) is highlighted by two stunning duets by mother and daughter on traditional spirituals"
- Will Friedwald, Wall Street Journal
"ranks among the finest career capping albums ever recorded." - Christopher Loudon, Jazz Times
*****Five Stars "Vocal Sides is a wonderous showcase. Carline Ray is a true artistic treasure."
- Brent Black, @Criticaljazz
"Carline Ray’s new Vocal Sides, remarkably, her debut CD. Produced by her daughter, who sings on a couple of duets, the collection of jazz, pop and gospel standards showcases Ray’s expressive contralto."
- Bob Weinberg, Miami Herald
"Carline sings with a rich, mature vocal sound, blending soulful dignity with deep understanding of the musical and lyrical value of the songs." - Jazz Mostly (UK)
"Vocal Sides delivers with "confidence, spirit, playfulness and sincerity". - CD Insight
"Juilliard-trained musician and singer Carline Ray, played with the all-women International Sweethearts of Rhythm big band in the 1940s...she just released a debut solo album, Vocal Sides" - Joan K. Smith, Huffington Post
"a soulfully charming album" - Jonny Meister, WXPN / PRX, Blue Dimensions
"This is the kind of disc that just makes you glad that there is a God and that He created music...you’re going to want this disc and have your life enriched. WOW!" - George W. Harris, Jazz Weekly
"a rewardingly wide-ranging set sung with soul, grace and elegance." - Gapplegate Music Review