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CD pairs Ray Charles vocals with new music

Disc combines 1970s recording with today's Count Basie orchestra
/ Source: The Associated Press

Ray Charles never performed with the late Count Basie when the two music legends were alive, but now they are being united in death.

Concord Records and Starbucks Hear Music said Wednesday they will release a disc this fall that combines vocals recorded by Charles during a concert in the mid-1970s with new music made by today’s Count Basie Orchestra.

Among the dozen cuts on “Ray Sings, Basie Swings” are “Busted,” “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” “The Long and Winding Road” and “Georgia on My Mind.”

The last project Charles recorded before his death on June 10, 2004 was the duets album “Genius Loves Company,” which earned eight Grammy Awards. It sold more than six million copies worldwide, making it the biggest-seller of his career.

While looking through a record company vault in late 2005, one of the “Genius Loves Company” producers came up with tapes marked “Ray/Basie.” The producer, John Burk, thought he’d found something to rewrite history. While the acts had shared concert bills, it was believed they had never performed together.

The tapes turned out to contain a copy of Charles singing accompanied by his own orchestra, although the music was recorded so poorly it could barely be heard. Burk had the idea of pairing the vocal recordings with new instrumental backing.

Charles’ team isn’t even sure where or when the recordings were made, guessing it was sometime in the mid-1970s based on the repertoire.

Gregg Field, a drummer who toured and recorded with both Charles’ and Basie’s bands before Basie died in 1984, was brought in to build the new disc with computer editing. Field had to match Charles’ singing to the new band’s performance, often stretching or compacting the space between words in order to fit the tempo.

“It was like painting the Sistine Chapel with a Q-tip,” Field said.

Singer Patti Austin brought together and sang with a new group of Raelettes.

Joe Adams, Charles’ longtime manager who had worked with him for 49 years, said it was probably a timing issue that kept Charles and Basie apart despite their mutual respect.

“Ray was a stickler for rhythm and said Basie always called the exact right rhythm for every song and he never overplayed,” Adams said.

Since the musical marriage of Natalie Cole with her late father Nat King Cole on “Unforgettable,” technology has advanced to the point of making almost anything possible. Mashups, which marry artists and songs in odd combinations, have become an underground art form.

Adams said he will protect Charles’ legacy but he doesn’t know if the future holds any more such projects.

“This is the best use of technology, when we can bring an amazing Ray Charles performance — one of the best he ever had — and build a musical form around it,” Field said. “You would hope that the people charged with the custody of master recordings would respect the way they should be used.”

The disc will be released Oct. 3 at traditional retailers and at Starbucks stores, where more than 800,000 copies of “Genius Loves Company” have been sold.