By Max Sullivan
Since Somerville native Matt Glaser’s younger days in Upper East Manhattan, the world renowned violinist and Berklee Professor has worshipped, like many, at the feet of “The Genius.”
“A lot of the music I’ve tried to make has been inspired by Ray Charles” Glaser said. “Its like a flame in the background for me.”
With such a flame as an inspiration, it seemed a no brainer to hold a symposium on the history of American roots music in Charles’s honor. A man who so effectively and eloquently tied the different forms of rural American music together.
The three day symposium, Inspired by Ray, to be held Sept 21-23 at Berklee College of Music, will be a mix of presentations and performances, from discussions on Charles’s involvement in both the black and blind community, to performances by many world renowned musicians who have crossed paths with Charles or his music in some form or another.
One performance will include a landmark onstage meeting of two greats, bluegrass giant Ricky Skaggs and renowned jazz guitarist John Scofield.
“They’ve never played with each other, but they’re fans of each other,” Glaser said, “So I’m really looking forward to the collaborations that will take place in this concert.”
Since being named the Artistic Director of the American Roots Music program at Berklee, Glaser has had it in mind to put on a symposium which focuses on the different forms of American rural music. The trick was, how do you fit blues, jazz, gospel and country music into a three day event and do rural music history any justice?
Being a Ray Charles fanatic, it dawned on him to make “The Genius” the focus.
“It occurred to me, Ray Charles really functioned as a great prism through which to look at all these things,” Glaser said.
Charles, of course, is recognized for not only creating some of the most soulful music to date, but for also simultaneously drawing from more areas of American music than any other artist of his time.
Glaser admitted that many of the kids he teaches day in and day out at the college have very little idea of what an impact Charles had on music.
“No, they don’t at all,” Glaser said. “Somebody once said that kids today, they don’t know anything. As a matter of fact, they don’t suspect anything.”
Surrounded by these young musicians who carry their iPhones and Apple laptops around the Berklee campus, engulfed in today’s easy access technology, Glaser sees so many students submerging themselves into a variety of musical styles yet understanding very little of the historical significance they hold.
“They’ve gone deeply into a wide range of things that interest them, but they don’t have a good historical sense,” Glaser said. “As a cranky old man now, this is my goal, to yell at these young kids and tell them everything they don’t know about American music.”
The tribute concert inspiRAYtion: A Tribute to Ray Charles is set for Saturday, September 22, at the Berklee Performance Center. Along with Skaggs and Scofield, performers will include singer-songwriter Raul Midón, former Raeletts Tonette McKinney, Renee Georges, and Katrina Harper, Grammy-nominated vocalist Donna McElroy, Charles’ former music director Victor Vanacore, Tracy Bonham and Margaret Glaspy with the Wayfaring Strangers, and guitarist/songwriter Doug Wamble.
Tickets, $35, $25, $15 (reserved seating), are at the Berklee Performance Center box office, at http://www.berklee.edu/BPC or by phone at 617 747-2261.