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The Moving Experience of 'Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying'



By Kalamu ya Salaam of Kalamu.com



The music can blind-side you, catch you sleeping, and the next thing you know you’re thinking about some stuff you never expected or wanted to think about.


I’ve been planning to write about “Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying” for a good little while. Yesterday, I lined up all four selections and played them back to back.


When I woke up this morning, around 4:30AM, a disturbing dream was on my mind.

Disturbing. Had me saying: where did that come from? What’s that about?

I dreamt of someone I used to love. In the dream, strong feelings surfaced. Strong feelings like a desire to touch, and the even stronger feeling: I definitely don’t want to ever go that way again.

Strong, conflicting emotions can be very unsettling.

I got up, worked on the computer for a little bit and then when back to sleep. The next time I woke up, I knew what the dream was about. It was about fulfilling my resolve while acknowledging my desire. “Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying” is the soundtrack and, in this case, was probably also the catalyst for my dream.

This is one small example of the great power of music, how it can open you to thoughts and emotions that may have laid dormant for years and then suddenly burst to the surface of your consciousness in a riot of anxiety and/or bewilderment.

To fully understand this song, you have to have really loved someone. I mean, really, really loved someone. Hard. Without compromise.


Every fiber of your being vibrating. And then they stopped loving you, left you, hurt you, make it clear to you that you and they would never be ‘we.’ And you have to have hurt real bad and dealt with it somehow.


It has to have been someone you wanted, not only at that time, but probably (and unfortunately) still have some slivers of desire (if not outright lust) for—a desire and lust that is blunted by the pain of the initial breakup, a breakup so upsetting that you never waver in your resolve: never again — you really mean it.


Unless, and until, you have loved and lost like that, you can not fully understand “Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying.”

I understand. That’s what my dream is about. I’m grown. I can handle it. Still, it was a spooky few moments, as I opened my eyes after watching my subconscious anti-romance movie.

Which brings us to the song itself. It was first popularized by Louis Jordan, and for Jordan it was an anomaly. Louis was the high priest of jive, most of his music was mid-to-up-tempo, nearly all of it was hilarious. Ballads were not his shtick.




And though he could do blues, very, very well, what he preferred, perfected and was the progenitor of, was Rhythm & Blues.

Louis Jordan took 1930s-era Big Band swing through the war years of the 40s and came up with a five-member combo he called the Tympani Five. They combined the sophistication of jazz with the joy and pain of blues, all firmly planted atop an irresistible dance beat.


Rock and roll, soul, R&B and just about every other form of post-Korean-conflict popular dance music owe a huge debt to Louis Jordan.
Jordan does not do “Don’t Let The Sun” as a steamy ballad or even as an intimate warning. Opening with his blues-drenched alto saxophone prelude (Jordan was a first-rate instrumentalist), Louis’ vocal treatment then combines the raucousness of Big Joe Turner with the smoothness of Nat ‘King’ Cole, including guitar obbligatos in the second verse much like a Cole arrangement.


For the most part, this is a small combo doing a Big Band arrangement of the song. In many, many ways it is simultaneously indicative of Jordan’s strengths and at the same time unlike the majority of his material.

The song is written by Joe Greene, who started out in the 30s and made his mark on the West Coast. Greene’s songs covered the gamut from Country and Western to West Coast progressive jazz of the 50s and 60s (Greene worked with Stan Kenton and Kenton’s noted vocalist, June Christy). In this regard, it was undoubtedly Jordan’s jazz interests that led Louis to pick up on Greene’s song.


By now, it’s 1959. Ray Charles is coming off of two great live albums - Live At Newport and In Person - as well as a bunch of hit singles in the Black market.


He’s combining jazz, gospel and the new R&B, and in the process coming up with something new.


His next album for Atlantic records predictably includes a lot of jazz elements (arrangements by Quincy Jones, members of the Basie band, plus Paul Gonsalves, a star soloist from the Ellington orchestra), but the second side of the LP is something entirely different.


It’s Ray singing mostly standards backed by a string orchestra arranged by Ralph Burns and augmented by jazz soloists and choral voices.

Although jazz and supper club artists such as Dakota Staton, Dinah Washington, Gloria Lynne, Nat King Cole and most notably Billie Holiday (with her classic Lady In Satin album) had done the standards with strings, Ray was the first of the hardcore R&B artists to successfully tackle this format.


Over 40 years later, The Genius of Ray Charles remains a moving experience and it’s because Ray not only pulls the diverse elements together and offers original interpretations of a wide range of material, but more importantly, the session works because regardless of what style of music is the source material.


Ray Charles transforms the song into a Ray Charles experience, primarily through the distinctiveness of his vocal work but also because of his succinct, albeit essential, piano solos and just-right-piano accompaniment. This indeed was the work of a musical genius, a genius who established new standards for American song.

Ray’s vocals suffuse “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying” with an awesome sadness.


While you are certain that Ray has no intention of taking this woman back, you can feel that she left a gapping hole in his psyche, a hole that it may take years to fill.


With thanks to www.kalamu.com/bol where this piece was originally posted.


New Orleans writer and filmmaker, Kalamu ya Salaam is founder of Nommo Literary Society - a Black writers workshop; co-founder of Runagate Multimedia; leader of the WordBand, a poetry performance ensemble; and moderator of e-Drum, a listing service for Black writers and diverse supporters of their literature.


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Mesmerizing Ray!

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