Backstage: Performing with Ray Charles a hard and fulfilling road

From the Peoria Journal Star:

Welcome to the exquisite torture of life on the road with a bona fide genius – a preternaturally gifted blind piano man and singer, whose gospel-saturated voice married spirituals with the blues, who mixed up the sacred and profane, who drew deeply on the darkest shadows within himself and brought forth clear light.

Ray Charles gulped life greedily, seldom getting through a day without women and gin and lording it over backup musicians that he himself picked and insisted on traveling with: Musicians dazzled by a scorching hot sun that sometimes burned them.

David Hoffman was one of those musicians. Starting in 1991, the Springfield native, central Illinois trumpeter and adjunct jazz instructor at Knox College spent 13 years on the road with Ray Charles – a winding, whirling, confusing trip that he has chronicled in a newly self-published book, “What’s That Bus Doing on the Runway? The Antics and Absurdities of Life on Road.”

It’s a journey that brought Hoffman from Bakersfield toBrazil, from the Hollywood Bowl to Moscow’s Red Square, from Barcelona to Macon, Georgia, from Rome to West Virginia.

As he circles and flies or rolls down highways in buses enduring the tedium of watching yet one more screening of “Blazing Saddles,” something happens: Hoffman deepens his musical voice. He discovers again what music really is, what art really is. He sees the value of going crooked where others would go straight, of finding things that fit, which at first glance, don’t seem to fit at all.