Christopher Wray has soul ... plus heart 

Graham Colton's Annual Thanksgiving Food Drive Concert with Christopher Wray, Sherree Chamberlain, Matt Stansberry and
The City Lives
9 p.m. Wednesday
Bricktown Brewery
1 N. Oklahoma
www.bricktownbrewery.com
232-2739
$20

Those unfamiliar with Christopher Wray might be in for a shock when seeing him live for the first time.

"I get surprised comments quite a bit," said Wray, part of tonight's lineup at Bricktown Brewery for Graham Colton's annual Thanksgiving benefit concert. "Hopefully, it's a more of a pleasant surprise than an unpleasant one."

One probably wouldn't expect the smooth, neo-soul pop sound from those speakers to be coming from Wray " a 20something raised in rural Oklahoma " but growing up on a steady stream of Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles has helped him cross cultural boundaries.

"A lot of people say it's racially diverse," he said. "People from all walks of life can get into it. I've got fans from every race under the sun, and I like that " I like the unifying factor of music."

Wray's middle school music teacher inspired his beginnings in music, her husband pushing him even further. He began writing songs and learning the guitar, performing his first gig in Altus in high school. His early material borrowed from jazz greats like John Coltrane, and he performed those loose, improvisational arrangements around Oklahoma for several years, even getting inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame.

He continued to record and play across the region, eventually graduating from the University of Oklahoma before a fateful trip to Los Angeles for a recording session convinced him to transplant to California.

"I have Oklahoma to thank for just about everything, but I was just ready for a new scene," Wray said. "I never, ever planned on moving to L.A. From the stereotypes that it had and what people had told me about it, it didn't sound like a place I wanted to be. I came out for that session and met tons of great guys, heard a lot of players and the music out here was just really going on. Personally, I kind of wanted to take my music to that 'another level,' as far as what I wanted out of it and what I wanted to do with it."

And he did just that, in more ways than one.

His sound shifted from more traditional jazz to a soulful blend of pop and R&B, although the style isn't completely settled yet.

"I'm still trying to find what it is that I'm trying to create. It's hard to pin down 'me,' musically, on just one recording," Wray said. "Where I'm at now, I want to hit people with songs. I don't want to say it's easy listening, 'cause it's not, and I don't want to say I'm writing pop songs, because I'm not really trying to do that, either. I do want to write songs that people want to listen to and are easy to listen to."

Things get a whole lot easier to listen to with talents Wray assembled for his new EP, "A-Sides." The connections he made around L.A. afforded him the opportunity to have big names like drummer ?uestlove (The Roots) and bassist Pino Palladino (John Mayer Trio, The Who) play on his record.

"I gotta tell you," Wray said, laughing. "When I first got the tracks back "¦ it was simply surreal."

He's the first to admit that the life of a musician is tumultuous, but with opportunities coming his way, he might soon find even footing.

"It's peaks and valleys," he said. "One moment, I'm on the top of the world and the other, I'm at the lowest of the lows. That just comes with being a musician, but I know I'll have never been more proud than in that moment when I'm holding the record in my hands."

TALKING TURKEY

This is the third year Oklahoma City singer/songwriter Graham Colton has hosted his Thanksgiving benefit concert, from which a sizable portion of the proceeds benefit the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma. He serves on the food bank's Celebrity Council with fellow performer Sherree Chamberlain, who performs tonight, as do The City Lives and Matt Stansberry.

This also marks the third year Christopher Wray has been a part of the show.

Wray said he enjoys giving something back to the community that helped him get his start in music, just as much as he enjoys coming back to see his family and friends like Colton, for whom he has nothing but glowing words.

"I'm lucky to have a best friend like him. He just goes out of his way to help everyone in the community, from aspiring musicians to those he helps with charity shows and benefits like this one," Wray said. "He's not even looking for anything in return. He simply does this stuff because he's just a good dude who wants to help. I'm glad to have him as a buddy "¦ he's an Oklahoma treasure." "Joshua Boydston

Photo: Christopher Wray

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