Willie Nelson & Wynton Marsalis: Play The Music of Ray Charles – DVD Review


In many of my past articles I often reflect on the different genres of music that surrounded me while growing up. I recall my parents listening to Ray Charles and fondly remember how his music caught my imagination back then. There was always a brilliant blend of vibrant energy that could take an otherwise dull day and change it into a delightful scene in a finger snap. It was some of Ray’s tunes that influenced many of my earliest creative writing projects I worked on as a kid… I was reminded of some these eclectic moments while watching Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis Play the Music of Ray Charles DVD…

Music is a journey to me… I love taking the educational tour down that creative road and exploring all the intersections as they form into one soulful passage. You may not always like everything you see along the way, but there’s usually something interesting to talk about.

I decided to view this DVD in my home gym and get in a work out at the same time. As a writer I find exercising helps me work through some of those thought processes… Unfortunately my golden retriever Lucille had to look on with sadness as she knew a walk was not a reality at this moment. Eventually she closed her eyes to the steady burr of the treadmill and the “diverse grooves” that set my mind in gear…

Originally Filmed and Recorded in February 2009

This DVD featuring country music legend Willie Nelson and Pulitzer Prize-winning jazz artist Wynton Marsalis is the second collaboration for the duo. The first occasion was two years prior and resulted in the album “Two Men With The Blues.” This time they show even more in common by sharing their admiration and mutual respect for the late music mastermind Ray Charles.

There are three great musical art forms in America that really come from the grassroots, and that’s jazz, country and blues. All three intersect together in Wynton Marsalis, Willie Nelson and Norah Jones. It’s a perfect collaboration, and each one of them is a leader in their own art form.
~ James Ackerman

Frederick P. Rose Hall

Commonly known as “The House of Swing,” this hall is the world’s first performing arts institution devoted entirely to jazz. And it’s New York City’s Jazz at Lincoln Center home and the setting for this rare two-night performance. Along with the charming and talented Norah Jones, all these wonderful performers explore the legacy of Charles by weaving a collection of 15 songs that tell the story of a love affair through its many stages. This cool blend of musical styles creates a unique atmosphere that I found very intriguing indeed.

The tone is set with “Hallelujah (Boy I Love Her So),” featuring Nelson’s long time harmonica player Mickey Raphael along with some improvised guitar riffs by Willie and company. Norah Jones is introduced for the song “You Are My Sunshine,” which is played in an exclusive and dissimilar manner. Nelson then leaves the stage for Jones to sing lead for the number “Come Rain or Come Shine.” Mellower than the previous selections, it brings to mind those smoky fifties jazz club metaphors. “Unchain My Heart” one of my favorite tunes Ray Charles recorded features extensive solos from Raphael and drummer Ali Jackson.


Vocals and Acoustic Guitar:
Willie Nelson

Trumpet and Vocals
Wynton Marsalis

Norah Jones

Mickey Raphael

Dan Nimmer

Carlos Enriquez

Ali Jackson

Walter Blanding

Set List

01. Hallelujah Love Her So
02. You Are My Sunshine
03. Come Rain Or Come Shine
04. Unchain My Heart
05. Crying Time
06. Losing Hand
07. Hit The Road Jack
08. I’m Moving On
09. Busted
10. You Don’t Know Me
11. Here We Go Again
12. Makin’ Whoopee
13. I Love So Much (It Hurts)
14. What’d I Say
15. That’s All

The entire show has a very loose, spontaneous vibe. From “Crying Time,” “Hit The Road Jack,” “You Don’t Know Me” to “What I’d Say,” and the closer “That’s All,” there’s some fantastic moments on this DVD that take the viewer on a sundry adventure.

Bonus Features Include

never before seen rehearsal footage, interviews and photos that documents how this historic event came to play… More appropriately suited for a relaxing evening sipping wine by the fire rather than a treadmill workout, I still found Willie Nelson & Wynton Marsalis: Play The Music of Ray Charles and this interpretation of his work very satisfying. The music brought back early memories of my childhood when I would pretend I was a screenwriter and make up all kinds of crazy scripts. During those moments I would often use the songs of Ray Charles to help my imagination drive the scene. His legacy will always have a meaningful significance to so many of us, and this DVD continues to remind us that his spirit will forever live on through time…

What words come to mind when you think of the work of Ray Charles? Do you have any favorite songs of Ray Charles that bring back memories for you? Your comments are always welcome.

The Blues Blogger

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14 years ago

Love it brother, another fine article. It’s great to see these people working together to honor a man and his music. I have been a fan of every person you mention in this article and always will be. Thank you BluesBlogger for all your hard work. I love the reverence you show toward these great people of the music industry, that alone tells me you are a man of integrity. BLESS YOU FRIEND.

14 years ago

Whatever genius put these voices together should be accoladed. Buying the CD now, based on this blog.

Thanks for sharing.

14 years ago

What an awesome combination! I am a fan of Willie and Wynton,but with all the talent on this it is a very satisfying and complete dvd.Definetly on my xmas list of things to buy for myself and friends.To put these two guys together was incredible.Thank you very much

14 years ago

Wonderful blog.

14 years ago

This is wonderful music plus so much information– love this– Thank you so very much

14 years ago

What a great post and such a wild combination of music legends… “Willie Nelson & Wynton Marsalis : Play Ray Charles”… wow !! Just goes to show ya’ Willie can “hang” with any music genre or legend !! Thanks BB for this great post !!

14 years ago