That's Dave Koz and his Friends, of course!
June 25th brought a new venue to the city of Reading, Pennsylvania. The recently built Sovereign Center, home of the Reading Royals hockey team, was magically transformed for the Grand Opening of the Reading Eagle Theatre.
On this very rainy night, part of the arena seating was blocked off, reducing the arena to a more intimate space with the stage in the center, set against a backdrop of curtains so that every seat in the newly created U-shape had a good view of the stage area. The stage area was quite attractively featured in this new theatre, and I�m sure there will be many more concerts in this new venue.
So many people were still drying out when show time came that the MC of the night came out with an umbrella to do his rendition of �Singing in the Rain,� before announcing the show. But it was a great show, and the rain was easily forgotten. With headliners Dave Koz, Wayman Tisdale, Jonathan Butler and Rick Braun, how could it be any different? And one of the most interesting things about the night was that anyone who attended this Dave Koz and Friends concert has now learned the secret identities of Dave and these friends of his.
Dave�s secret identity is Koz the Koreographer. True to his style, Dave arranged the show so that musicians did not simply �appear on stage.� Each one of them had a well-calculated role to play in addition to playing an instrument. Dave�s ability to orchestrate a show with such precision and timing of movements is amazing! I think if we�re not careful, the jazz world is going to lose him to a Broadway production company! I�ve seen Dave Koz a few times before this, and each time, he made optimum use of every artist, every moment and every note in the songs during the show.
As for Wayman Tisdale�s secret identity, well, he has two of them! One shows his softer side, dubbing him The Big Marshmallow, and the second one, which I�m pretty sure was totally spontaneous on this night, is Wayman the Conductor. He was standing nearby other players when all of a sudden he began conducting them! After that he tried to throw a kiss the way only Rick Braun can (you guessed it, Rick�s is The Kiss Thrower); somehow it didn�t work in the same way for Wayman. But that�s no problem, he can always fall back on the marshmallow or conductor identities! You may or may not know that Wayman was a basketball player of star quality in the NBA in his past life! Wayman had so much fun during this show, and he played very well. I didn�t realize you could go from tough basketball player to nimbled-fingered bass player, but it�s obvious he has done that and very successfully.
Jonathan Butler, who I thought was mainly a guitar player (where have I been?), has a secret identity as Singer of Headliner Quality, wow! He fell into Koz the Koreographer�s plans for him very, very nicely! Dave counted on him to foster a lot of audience participation, and that task seemed as easy as breathing for Jonathan. It was the first time I�ve seen him, and to say his performance in playing, singing, and just audience connection were memorable would not be doing him enough justice. The audience adores him and now I know why.
Back to Rick Braun, The Kiss Thrower. While I knew that Dave was a gifted choreographer, I had never picked up on the secret identify of Rick Braun before, even though I�ve seen him a number of times in concert! I mean, he was throwing BIG kisses, the kind you throw from a heart of gratitude and love for the recipient! The audience thought it was great, of course, as they were the object of his affection! I should point out that Rick was also a bit of a Secret Entrance Artist during the show. Now and then he disappeared for awhile and just when you began to wonder where he was, he would sneak in from the side of the audience onto the stage, or would end up playing to the front row without even getting on stage, or he would sit on the edge of the stage. He was all over the place during this show! I was struck, once again, not only by his talent, but also by his flexibility on stage. He can be serious or he can go along with the outrageous schemes of his band leader for the night.
And this is not all I saw of special abilities and secret identities! Dave had some other friends with him, including a keyboard, bass and guitar player and these three also had secret identities. Shhhhhh, these band members are actually DANCERS. They, too, played with great skill, and how were we to know they would land in center stage with some rather graceful, well-timed moves? I suppose they might end up with Dave in that Broadway production company!
There�s just one more thing I need to tell you before I continue: they all like to fight with each other on stage! Just like young boys! I was not always sure if Dave was running after or running away from the others, but there was a lot of running, pretend pushing and shoving, going on. I think when the event planners asked Dave to come here to play and to bring his friends, he took that literally!
Now that I�ve set the stage, you might also wonder about the music. Oh yes, the music!
The set list was an excellent one, I thought. It included Koz�s "Honey-Dipped," from his new album, Saxophonic, Wayman�s "Ain�t No Stopping Us Now," a real crowd pleaser, and "Gabrielle," written for his daughter; Braun�s "Notorious" and "TGIF" (this song features Dave Koz on Braun's new CD); and Jonathan Butler�s "Wake Up" and "No Woman, No Cry." The audience was enthralled and it kept getting better and better. The first set ended with "All I See Is You," "Sarah," and the ever popular "Grazing in the Grass." Still other highlights of the show were "Dancin," "Smile," and Dave�s "Faces of the Heart," the love theme for �General Hospital.� The crowd joined in enthusiastically with Butler�s "Do You Love Me," and the evening ended with "Lies" and Stevie Wonder�s "I Wish."
A fun addition to the show came when each artist contributed his expertise in playing themes of television commercials and programs of long ago, as well as nursery rhymes! They surprised us with renditions of songs like "London Bridge is Falling Down," themes from "The Brady Bunch," "The Jetsons," "Bonanza" and many others. It was a competition between the artists to see which one came up with the most recognizable crowd-pleasers in this category, and they kept topping each other!
A bonus of the evening for me and I�m sure many other fans was that one of our own writers on smoothvibes.com, Jonathan Widran (of the Contempo Column), wrote numerous articles in a small newspaper format given to all who attended the show. He wrote quite comprehensive articles on Dave and each of his Friends who performed that night. As far as I know, he didn�t have a �heads up,� however, on quite all of the Secret Identities!
The music was captivating from beginning to end. It was so good that the performers would not have needed secret identities to hold our attention. But we did have fun watching all these antics, never knowing what they were going to do next! And to say they were having fun would be an understatement. They were all on a high and they seemed to genuinely love being in Reading, home to the Berks Jazz Fest.
I�m sure we all left the arena thinking it would be great fun to do it all over again!
Jazz Circle Member of the Berks Arts Council
Photo credits: Michael Packard