Vancouver Symphony Orchestra
A Tribute to Ray Charles

Dates and Venue 19 & 20 November 2010 at 8pm | Orpheum Theatre

Conductor Jeff Tyzik Featured performer Ellis Hall, vocals

Reviewer John Jane

Tribute concerts generally fall into two distinct categories. The bad ones are typically hackneyed impersonations of a popular artist’s style and physicality with varying degrees of accuracy. The good ones focus on the music that evokes the spirit and talent of a unique artist. Thankfully, this concert, a tribute to the genius Ray Charles fell in the latter.

Master musician Ellis Hall, would seem an obvious choice to perform a selection of the late, great singer’s best known songs. Aside from the most obvious commonality (both lost their sight to congenital glaucoma when very young), their personal connection goes deeper. They both hail from the state of Georgia and became close friends when the younger man signed on with Charles’s record label.

Hall performed Hit the Road Jack, I Can't Stop Loving You, Unchain my Heart and other Charles classics with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and his Raelettes-styled vocal trio which consists of his daughter Wendisue Hall, Sandra Simmons-Williams and Cristi Black. The program was conducted by Jeff Tyzik, who owns a pretty impressive jazz and pops catalogue himself.

Hall doesn’t mimic the Ray Charles voice - his vocal style is actually closer to that of Stevie Wonder. Nor, does like to use the word “tribute;” he prefers to call his show “a journey of soul and love.”

One of the evening’s high points was when the multi-instrumentalist picked up a guitar and accompanied himself on one of his own songs, the plaintive Girl, you're not in Kansas Anymore. Despite some lack of mobility on stage Hall enjoys engaging the audience in flippant banter. With the last tune in his regular programme, he mobilized the audience in adding their vocal strength in What’d I Say.

Maestro Tyzik kicked off the evening with a swing rendition of A Fifth of Beethoven featuring guest musician Tilden Webb on electric keyboard. The orchestra continued in the ‘Pops’ vein, giving the audience an opportunity to play “guess-that-tune” with a couple of foot-stomping medleys. The first, a selection of essentially Motown tunes from the seventies; the second, a puissant potpourri of instrumental hits from the same period that included Watermelon Man and The Hustle.

© 2010 John Jane