Uros on my mind

Slovenian jazz musician Uros Peric opens the Hot Jazz season with music by Ray Charles.

Uros Peric (photo credit: GREGOR KATIC)
Uros Peric
(photo credit: GREGOR KATIC)
This year’s Hot Jazz lineup promises to bring the swing, delve deep into the blues, and pay tribute to only the finest. First up, a tribute to the American singer-songwriter who gave new meaning to the concept of performativity, Ray Charles. The Jerusalem Post dialed up Uros Peric to find out how a Slovenian pianist and vocalist earns the title of “The White Ray Charles”.
When and where did you first discover Ray Charles?
I don’t remember the exact age anymore, but I believe it was somewhere around 12 years old. I always admired jazz, blues, soul, and gospel music, and was listening to some other blues artists at that time, like Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, John Lee Hooker and B.B. King, but when I first heard Ray, I instantly fell in love. I didn’t speak a word of English back then, and I sure didn’t know who Ray was. After that discovery, I set off to find out everything I could about him.
There’s no denying that the true magic of Ray comes to life in his performance and charisma on stage. Is this something that you focused on while preparing for this tribute?
I no longer think of Ray when I perform, actually. When I was a little kid, I used to pretend to be him when playing at home for myself. His soul flowed through me so much so that I stopped knowing the difference. I’d say that today, my charisma is surely different than his, but equally powerful. My movements on stage are all driven by musical signs: hand gestures indicate stops, moving left and right sets my desired tempo, and I use my feet to determine the strength of each beat. Honestly, the music just takes over and causes me to move. If I wasn’t playing the piano and singing in front of the microphone, I’m sure I’d move in a very similar way.
You’ve previously collaborated with Ray’s daughter Sheila Raye Charles. Did you learn anything interesting about your idol while working with her?
Since our first performance together, which was organized by our managers, she treated me like her brother. I learned quite a lot from her. The ironic part is that musically, she learned more from me. For example, Sheila wasn’t familiar with all of her father’s songs.
Do you draw on any personal hardships or life experience to get into that bluesy sweet spot?
I always make sure to sing and interpret a song as if I were inside of it. That being said, I try to bring all of my relationships – good and bad – to the music. Then I sing, and always for myself, not for the public. The public feels it as a result.
For me, blues means everything. It’s a way of life, a way of breathing in air. It can make me sad, happy, funny. I strongly feel that everybody should understand the blues; in its very essence, it’s not so complex once you understand that the blues is all about a specific feeling at a given moment, which makes it timeless.
Have you performed in Israel before?
I’ve never been to Israel, and I’m very much looking forward to visiting your country. I’m curious about the people and the food – those are the things that usually attract me first.
What are your goals with “Hallelujah, Ray Charles”?
To see great places, give great performances, and have fun with the audience and the LadyJazz Trio [from Holland] and local musicians. Also, to hopefully make a good impression, so that I’ll be invited back to Israel again sometime soon.
How has the jazz and blues scene developed over the past century in your home country?
It has remained the same for decades now, though I brought a little youth to it 10 years ago, which encouraged the younger crowd to start coming to concerts. Unfortunately, it is not popular, nor will it ever be. It is appreciated, however.
Many have referred to you as “The White Ray Charles.” How does that make you feel?
At the beginning, I liked it. To be compared to one of the best musical geniuses in the world is a huge honor. Now, I prefer to be thought of as Uros Peric. Though I still believe that we, as artists, should hold the candle for the greats that passed before us. We don’t want those legends to be forgotten.
Finally, if Ray were alive and kicking today, what would you want to ask him?
First, I would have a gin and coffee with him. Then, I can assure you that there are many, many, many questions that I have and know only he could answer for me. The talk would be a long one, I’m sure.
Uros Peric pays tribute to Ray Charles in select venues across Israel from October 13 to 20. For more information and tickets, visit hotjazz.co.il