Written by
Bob Stumpel

November 11

Forty Pound Limit (aka I Don’t Know, aka Mr. Ray Charles) (The Ray Charles Orchestra)

'97 LC MontreuxWith Ray Charles Band

Album DVD: Ray Charles Live At The Montreux Jazz Festival, November 2004; DVD/CD: Geneon/Pioneer B000667GDM, November 2004; DVD: SHE B0000648YH, June 2006; DVD: Eagle Rock B000VZBCVU, October 2007; Blu Ray DVD: Eagle Rock B001JL2V2E, December 2008.

In an earlier article on this tune I presented it as an unidentified instrumental. I wrote that “In many sources, funnily, this track is mis-titled as I Don’t Know. In one other as Mr. Ray Charles, which doesn’t seem probable either… Who knows the title of this composition?”

The answer came from the composer, Ray Charles Orchestra veteran trumpeter (1991 – 1995, 1997 – 2004) David Hoffman: “Its real name is Forty Pound Limit.”
In an additional comment he shared the whole funny story: “Our suitcases were limited to 40 pounds, and […] I was carrying around a lot of manuscript paper, because I wrote a lot on the road. I was pissed and wrote a tune I called Forty Pound Limit in honor of the rule. Ray heard the tune and liked it and asked me the name. I didn’t want to ruffle any feathers right then, so I said, I don’t know. Ray (with his patented arms across his chest move said ‘I Don’t Know. THAT’S it… I Don’t Know!'”

The Ray Charles Orchestra had a repertoire of approximately 500 (some say: up to 700) tunes. The charts were numbered, and were carried around in a huge chest that traveled with the band. Deciding on a setlist was just a matter of jotting down the corresponding numbers, and then distributing the corresponding charts. When Ray changed his mind during the concert, he just shouted out the alternative number(s) of the tunes (you sometimes can hear him do that in some of the concerts on this blog). Since all orchestra members were supposed to learn these tune numbers by heart, it was easy to communicate such changes.
Hoffman reveals, “Ray rarely remembered titles of instrumentals, though, which is probably why he didn’t cite the title in the interview [see the second clip, below, BS]. To him, it was #500 (I think). I have forgotten a lot of the numbers now. I used to have them all memorized, as we all did. In fact, it would help you remember your hotel room sometimes. If you were in room 239, it was the Georgia Suite.

Personnel*: Ted Murdock, Roger Ingram, David Hoffman, Ken Scharf – trumpets; Mike Guerrier, Steve Sigmund, Clay Lawrey, Wayne Coniglio – trombones; Al Waters, Al Jackson, Steve Elliott, Rudy Johnson, James Farnsworth – saxophone; Kenny Carr – guitar; Tom Fowler – bass; Ernest Vantrease – keyboards; Peter Turre – drums.

*Corrections on DVD’s liner notes kindly provided by Steve Sigmund. 

Visit David Hoffman’s page for more raycharlesiana, and more good jazz.


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