Front Row, Center by Lynn
Front Row, Center by Lynn
Saturday, August 21, 2010
Tom Braxton CD Release Party with special Guest, Keyboardist, Gail Jhonson
Spaghettini, Seal Beach, CA
Saxophone: Tom Braxton
Guitar: Yarone Levy
Keyboard (Music Director for Norman Brown): Gail Jhonson
Bass: Dwayne ‘Smitty’ Smith
Drums: Tony Moore
The room was buzzing when Vienna Yip pounced on stage~
“Good evening and welcome to Spaghettini! How’s everybody doin’? Tonight we have Pacific Coast Jazz recording artist, Tom Braxton! Welcome to the CD release party for Endless Highway! I’m the Jazz Music Director at KSBR and we’ve been playing this! Enjoy the show and give a hand to Tom Braxton, please. At the break, they’ll be in the lobby signing CDs and taking photos.”
“Spaghettini’s on a Saturday night, it doesn’t get better than this! We’ve got a great band! This is a song I wrote for my youngest son. It’s called Julian’s Smile. Here we go!”
Braxton fired it up and cranked out! Within minutes, he was in the front corner pocket with guitarist, Yarone Levy giving it up. The chemistry between these two immediately lit up the venue. Tom dished out a foot stompin’ smooth jazz vibe that had everybody swayin’. Back arched and trillin’, Tom’s magic turned it out. What an opener! Bassist Smitty Smith thumped his way out of the back corner pocket and turned the audience upside down. A small nest of Dwayne fans went wild as he snared his throaty vibe, whisking us to jazz crazy.
“Ohhh! Dwayne ‘Smitty’ Smith on bass! This is a tradition we do at every show. Wherever we go, we’re gonna make you clap on beat two and four. Now, if you have a fork in your hand, don’t do this! People have rhythm out here in Orange County! Now we’re gonna see if you can multitask and sing. Ladies, we know, for you it’s easy. The melody goes something like this. Some people already have it. Com’on now, let’s see if you do. I think they’re makin’ me look bad, y’all!”
Tom led a the audience in a full clap, then leaned in and gifted a stellar
“You guys sound great!”
He lifted one hand over his head, leading the singing, clapping crowd.
“You guys are good! That’s what I’m talkin’ about! We’re gonna do some Steele Dan for you. This was one of my favorite groups growing up. We’ve got CDs tonight, but we’re gonna talk about it later. I don’t wanna fly back home with ‘em and pay extra for my luggage! Now we’re gonna do Peg.”
Guitarist, Yarone Levy’s solo was indescribably delicious. This cat can play! The crowd cut loose again. Tom blew the tenor, then took a hand at sheparding Tony Moore’s plexiglass bubble of undeniably perfect drumbeat. Braxton’s one-fingered cease fire had the audience going completely bonkers.
“Lemme introduce the band. Drummer, Tony Moore, just got off tour with George Benson.” We have Dwayne ‘Smitty’ Smith on bass.” He pointed. “Here on guitar, first time playing with us, Yarone Levy. He’s been on the American Idol tour.” He repeated, “Yarone.” Tom paused. “I just like saying that name! I keep thinking its Spanish, but he’s from Israel. We also have Norman Brown’s Music Director, Miss Gail Jhonson over there. Who’s that tall, funny-lookin’ guy? My name is Tom Braxton! Now, we have a sayin’ in Texas, y’all. All y’all, means all of you! We’re gonna play this one from my Endless Highway CD. It’s called Soul Purpose. The idea is for you to remember this little melody. It’s like a little stress reliever.” He repeated, “It’s called Soul Highway.”
Yarone and Braxton were at it again when the band came unglued. Moore’s off-the-chain solo shrugged Tom’s awestruck shoulders. Braxton stood back, then lit into his sax.
“Q, I need a little more of my voice over there. Wow, what a special night. We do have a sensitive side! We’re not just a heavy metal band! I wrote this song for my oldest son. It’s called Ian’s Song. I wrote it when I got snowed in and knew he was on the way there. He’s a sensitive and contemplative guy like me.” An impish grin covered his face. “So, we’re gonna do this. It’s Ian’s Song!”
Tom leaned down, straddled the stage ledge and made love to his soprano sax. I was inches from some of the most amazing sax riffs I’ve ever experienced. Moments froze in time as the soul of Mr. Tom Braxton drifted father-son love through the entire venue. Breathlessly, we watched his vibe caress his passionate jazz bliss. The venue was pin-drop quiet when he turned it over to guitarist, Yarone. Their expert volley yielded a cozy-living room feeling. Tom remained sitting, wrapping himself around the tune body and soul. He gave every ounce of himself to his zone of trilling genius. His last notes had audience members fanning white surrender napkins. Suddenly, he hopped up, scurried back on stage and finished this one off with an expert mix of Braxton finesse. A handoff to guitarist, Yarone Levy worked its way into a duet that reinvented the soprano sax-guitar vibe. Wow moments were flying high when Tom started stomping his right foot, enticing Yarone to take us to the moon. Levy did just that! Braxton grabbed it back and walloped his soprano, shaking his head to the beat. Volley, volley and more volley between these two reproved my theory of the mystifying musical chemistry they demonstrated the minute they joined each other’s rare form. Tom ended the riveting tune with a one-handed blow and ceiling reach.
“Yarone Levy! I’ll never do that again! He’s got too many strings!”
“The record doesn’t do that,” Tom warned jokingly. Braxton looked across the bar at the TVs and announced, “This is very distracting watching the Dallas Cowboys! We have a very special guest in the house tonight, the beautiful, Gail Jhonson!
“This is from my CD, Pearls. I recorded it with Nelson Braxton. We sent electronic files back and forth. That’s how we do it these days. I ended up calling this one Pacific Breeze. We’re gonna feature Mr. Smitty Smith on bass.” She spoke about her charity affiliation and efforts to aid the homeless in Detroit. “So, lemme know if you can feel the breeze!”
The minute Gail met the keys, her dream came true. An ocean breeze of ultra cool enveloped the entire venue. She teamed up with Braxton and carried the crowd to a jazz frenzy. Frothy ocean waves lapped her finger-dancin’ keyboard while she laid out her stellar chops.
“Thank you! Thank you very much, Gail Jhonson, once again. Because I have reached a plateau of the over-twenty-five group, I have to write things done. We have some birthdays tonight! We’re gonna do our soulful-yet-sensitive birthdays. We’re gonna behave tonight! We practiced it at sound check. Kay came all the way from Oregon, manager Jean, Ronald, Jeanette, Barbara, Linda from Sacramento were among the many he mentioned. “We’re gonna do it right, in the key of ‘C’.” Braxton clowned around acting like he was choked up.
Anonymous audience member~
“Give me a ‘C’, please.”
Tom offered a mix of sultry-sexy on his Happy Birthday solo. Keyboardist, Gail Jhonson kicked in with her sassy licks while Duane Smith bumped his way into the tune. Smith took it up a few notches and whisked a resonating thump before re-gifting it to Braxton. Tony Moore’s drumbeat rounded the dedication out perfectly. Tom, again, proved his jazzman self with a screamin’ sax finale!
“I’m sorry. It wasn’t my fault! I tried. I told ‘em! It was Dwayne ‘Smitty’ Smith and his old school. Speaking of old school, can we do this? This is, of course, called Let’s Stay Together.”
Thank you Tom Braxton for inviting Mr. Al Green and George Benson to your very special CD release party! What a great idea! Braxton took the mic into the audience and lit at crowd member, Linda’s table. He commented on her singing, then proceeded to give it up! Drummer Tony Moore was in the zone while Braxton continued to saunter through the audience playing as he pointed around the room. Tom offered an open-ended singing request.
“She’s over there eating dessert. She’s gonna sing. She’s back there puttin’ BBQ sauce on her collard greens! Everybody calm down. And don’t make her laugh.”
Tom finished off with a hip wiggle exclaiming~
“One, kick it! Wow, man! You guys are pumpin’ it out! We’re gonna do one more song under one condition. No one leaves!”
The band fired it back up.
“Play those chords, Gail! Ooh, a little organ. It goes like this, ‘Good bad, happy, sad’. Now, if you wanna put a little ooh, ah, in, it’s okay. When you ask people to sing you get a wide variety of responses, auditions and more?” Tom acknowledged and thanked Manager Bill from the Ayer’s Hotel for his hospitality during their stay. “So, this is the title track from the Endless Highway CD. I was fooling around with my sons and ended up with this song. Here we go! Ah! Aye!”
Braxton brought it home to mama with his back n’ forth and to n’ fro.
Guitarist Yarone Levy reinvented the guitar on his spectacular solo while Tom stood buy mouthing, “Com’on, com’on.” A sax explosion burst from Braxton’s can’t-stand-still excitement.
“Watch your guitar!” With one finger I the air, Braxton hollered, “Yeah! Yeah!” He reintroduced the band. “It’s definitely break time and we’ve got CDs.”
A roaring standing ovation lured them back on stage. The entire venue was on fire. Everyone was dancing and clapping at their Braxton bliss. And a hat’s-off performance it was!
Although I typically refrain from writing set two, I’m compelled to share. Tom and Gail opened in the audience with saxin’ sax and strap-on keyboard, respectively. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Tony Moore’s fiery drum solo, the heartfelt That Wayman Smile tribute and Duane ‘Smitty’ Smith’s rock-solid bass solo. The music clutched the undying spirit of the big guy, Wayman Tisdale, delivering this night straight to heaven. I remain in awe of the jazz camaraderie shared by Yarone Levy and Tom Braxton during their debut collaboration. Their genius reiterated the mindboggling power of jazz.
Thanks, Mr. Tom Braxton and his band for a life-changing night of jazz. The afterglow remains many hours later, and likely will until we all meet again. I, for one, can’t wait!
© August 2010 Lynn M. Olson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Awesome….awesome Thanks for another great review. You brought them right into my living room.
August 23, 2010 at 12:45 am
Thanks, LuLu! I can’t wait until you, Mark and the triplets come to Spaghettini…
September 22, 2010 at 12:46 pm