Al Jarreau and Najee at the Beacon Theater

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The Beacon Theater has been running a Valentine’s Day Concert for some number of years, sponsored by CD101.9, the local NYC Smooth Jazz radio station.

Last year was the first time Lois and I went, and we saw Dave Koz, along with David Benoit and Jonathan Butler. The mention of that concert was one paragraph buried in a very long post about Rediscovering Live Music. That’s too much to read, so here’s the relevant paragraph:

We saw Dave Koz at the Beacon Theater on Valentine’s Day. It was an amazing show, even though the acoustics were horrible! He had two special guests that played most of the evening with him and his band. David Benoit and Jonathan Butler. David Benoit is one of the great jazz pianists. Lois is now one of his biggest fans. I had never heard of Jonathan Butler before. He’s a South African singer and guitarist. He blew me away. Anita Baker was supposed to be a special guest, but she got snowed in and couldn’t make it. Koz got his buddy Be Be Winans to step in at the last minute. Be Be sings “The Dance” on the Koz album of the same name, and is one of our favorites. It was a special treat to see him sing that song live!

When I saw that there was another Valentine’s Day Concert this year, headlined by Al Jarreau with Najee opening for him, I grabbed the tickets immediately. A little over a week ago, I received an announcement that CD 101.9 would no longer be playing Smooth Jazz (they’re switching to some kind of Rock format). They made sure to point out that the concert was going to be held as planned.

I’ve written about the Beacon Theater a number of times, and the fact that they are owned by Cablevision, which also owns Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall. Of the three, I’ve also noted that the Beacon starts its concerts on the late side.

Last night, we decided to take the bus. I left plenty of time, and we didn’t have to wait for the bus that long. Lois always wants to leave earlier than I do, but last night, she relented. Unfortunately (for me), there was more traffic than I anticipated, and a police action in Times Square, and a Fire Engine a little further up, and it was clear that we wouldn’t get there as early as I had hoped. Still, I wasn’t nervous, because they always start late.

We got there at 8:04, so not too late. The house lights were still up, whew. But, as we walked down the aisle to find our seats, the lights went off, and Najee’s band started to play. Oops. Luckily/thankfully, the usher at the head of the aisle guided us perfectly. She said: “You’re in the fourth row from the stage, five and six seats in from the aisle.” We were able to find our seats without reading the numbers. Another whew.

The seats were a huge (and very pleasant) surprise. I knew we were in row DD, but in some theaters, AA comes after Z, in others (perhaps most Broadway theaters), AA is the first row, as turned out to be the case at the Beacon. Yay!

I wasn’t familiar with Najee’s music, though I’ve know of his reputation as an amazing musician for many years, so I was excited to see him. He was awesome, as was his entire band. He plays a number of instruments (different forms of Saxophones, a flute, etc.). Here he is playing the flute (click on any photo to see a larger version):

Najee on the Flute

While every member of his band was incredible and deserves a direct mention, I’ll cop out and call out two of them. Unfortunately, while I paid attention each time Najee named the band members, I also assumed that I could easily find their names on the Internet today, and for whatever reason (brain addle, etc.) I simply can’t! 🙁 The only name I am sure I can recall is the percussionist (different than the drummer) who is Victor Williams.

The drummer (feel free to leave me a comment and fill in his name! Update: as you can see in the comments, his name is Kentric Morris) was extraordinary. While he was playing an awesome solo, Najee came on the stage, grabbed a bottle of water, showed it to the crowd, then handed it to the drummer. He drank the entire bottle (holding it in his left hand), and continued the solo (feet and right hand), without missing a beat, in a pretty wild (in the good sense) solo. Wow.

Then, while still playing the same solo, a minute later, Najee came on the stage with a Blackberry in his hand. He asked the audience to yell “Hello” as he pointed it to the crowd. We did. He asked us to yell louder, we did. Then he handed the phone to the drummer. Again, the drummer continued the solo while speaking on the phone. It turns out it was his mother, and he had to excuse himself for having to get off so quickly. It was hysterical, especially when he promised her that he had attended church this past Sunday. 😉

The other guy to single out was the guitarist. He was formerly with the B-52s. I thought the name was “Chuck”, but I can’t find any mention of that, so I’m sure I was wrong. Anyway, aside from being an excellent guitarist, all but one of Najee’s numbers were instrumentals. The one exception was sung by the guitarist, and he did a heck of a job. He’s from Roanoke, VA if that helps identify him. 🙂 Perhaps, one of you can recognize him from his photo:

Najee Guitarist Singing

Update: People in the comments confirmed that the guitarist is Chuck Johnson.

Aside from making great music, Najee is personable and very conversational with the crowd. They were on for just under one hour, leaving the stage at 9pm.

As happened the previous night at MSG, they didn’t cover the stage between acts. Since we were in the fourth row, we got to see the entire disassembly and reassembly of all of the equipment for the two groups. They opened up the back of the stage to get the equipment straight out to the trucks. That meant that the outside air was rushing in during that operation. I was in a T-Shirt, but loved the breeze. Lois was in long sleeves, and had to put on her winter coat. 😉

Al Jarreau’s band came on the stage at 9:32, and they started to play at 9:34 while the lights were still on. The lights were turned off by the third note, and people rushed to their seats. A minute later, Al came on the stage to a thunderous applause, along with a female singer (again, really sorry about not nailing people’s names last night!). She joined him on four or five numbers, and they sang wonderfully together.

Al Jarreau in a Duet

In addition to having one of the silkiest voices around, with a mind-boggling range, Al is also a great entertainer, who is enjoying himself on the stage as much as the crowd is enjoying him. He’s 68-years-old, and hasn’t lost even a touch of his vocal capabilities. When he sings in a deep register, it’s smooth, clean, powerful, and you’d think he was a 400 pound bassist. When he reaches for high notes, there’s no strain in his voice, and he can whisper them, or belt them out. To repeat my characterization above, simply mind-boggling.

I’ve been a fan of Al’s forever. I bought Breaking Away on vinyl, when it first came out (in 1981), so it’s at least 27 years that I’ve been listening to him. I love that album so much, that I also own the CD.

If you don’t know him, get to know him. 😉 In addition to phenomenal singing, he also scats with the best of them. But, in addition to normal scatting (whatever that means), he scats all of the instruments in his band. If you close your eyes, so that you don’t know it’s him, you could easily confuse his voice for a real instrument. It’s cool, trust me. 🙂

As with Najee (who joined Al for one wonderful number!), Al has an incredible rapport with the crowd. There’s something Buddha-like about Al. He radiates love, peace and joy, and openly promotes prayer and mindfulness throughout the show. Here’s a photo of the two of them together:

Al Jarreau and Najee

He played an extraordinary set for just under 90 minutes, including an encore. He never left the stage after saying the first goodnight, slipping into the encore. I was thrilled to be there last night!

One political footnote.

If you’ve read my stuff before, you know I really can’t stand when an entertainer mixes politics into the show. I’ve also said, if you’re going to do it, make it part of the music, not a speech.

Both Najee and Al made exactly one reference each to something that could be considered political. In both cases, it was classy and understated, and most definitely not preachy. Both could have (and possibly should have) avoided it, but I can’t imagine they offended anyone, certainly not me.

First Najee. He pointed out that he was in LA (Ventura Boulevard I think) and saw 25 people demonstrating on behalf of Obama. What amazed him was that all 25 were white people. He (Najee) pointed out that 50 years ago, that sight would simply have been inconceivable, and it made him proud to be an American, and very hopeful about what it meant for our collective future.

I completely agree with him, as did the crowd. This wasn’t an endorsement of Obama, nor a refutation of Hillary, nor a put-down of Republicans. Merely, an observation that something fundamental may finally be changing (for the better) in this country, when it comes to tolerance of differences (racial and otherwise). Amen!

Al’s was more political, but as classy as could be in that regard. In introducing one of his more famous songs, We’re In This Love Together, he said that he was dedicating it to sending a message to Washington that we don’t want any more war. He then wove that theme into the song itself, two or three times.

But, I say it was classy, because he never once mentioned Bush, The Administration, Republicans, Conservatives, Right-Wingers (those who conspire vastly and those who don’t), etc. He didn’t need to curse any of the above, to get his message across.

To that, I also say Amen. We can all have our own points of view, but we’ll never come to any collective understanding if the civility in our dialog continues to be rhetoric and defamatory based.

Comments

27 responses to “Al Jarreau and Najee at the Beacon Theater”

  1. Jennifer Avatar
    Jennifer

    The guitarists name is Chuck Johnson.He is from Roanoke Virginia and is also the lead singer for a rock band based out of Rocky Mount Virginia named TK-421.They can be found at http://www.tk-421.net and http://www.myspace.com/tk421band

  2. hadar Avatar

    Jennifer, thank you very much for Chuck’s last name and the links to the new band. He’s fantastic, and I felt like a complete bozo that I couldn’t remember his last name (nor find it), even though it’s as easy as pie. 🙂

  3. bob Mooney Avatar
    bob Mooney

    it’s as close to being these as it gets…. thanks for sharing… bob

  4. Wayne Avatar

    It is nice to see Chuck getting some recognition; I’ve been fortunate to mix many of his shows and he has a special talent. I’m glad you took notice of his performance.

    BTW: Yesterday working working on a new project with the “TK-421” guys, I watched him record tracks of Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar, Electric Bass, Mandolin and vocals. His talent isn’t restricted to one style of music.

    You can also see him talk about his music at:

    http://www.youtube.com/TK421Vid

  5. hadar Avatar

    Thanks Wayne! There’s little doubt Chuck is very versatile! I watched the video interview, thanks for that too. I’m currently listening to the MySpace songs. 🙂

  6. Tracy Avatar

    Hadar,
    For those of us who know Chuck Johnson from the world of rock and haven’t gotten the opportunity to see him in the jazz realm, it’s great to hear that his talent is as boundless as we had believed. He’s an amazing talent. I’ve seen him play probably 100 or more times and every single time he takes the stage it still gives me chills.

    Thanks for the great article!

  7. hadar Avatar

    Thanks Tracy, he is indeed a major talent!

  8. Mudflap Avatar

    The Najee guitarist is in fact named Chuck. He is an incredable entertainer. I have never seen Najee (or heard of him before Chuck turned me on to him) but I go see the other band Chuck is in (not a Jazz band) whenever I an in, or around Roanoke. I have even concidered taking in a Najee show just to see how the two “faces of Chuck” compare to each other.

  9. Mudflap Avatar

    The Najee guitarist is in fact named Chuck. He is an incredable entertainer. I have never seen Najee (or heard of him before Chuck turned me on to him) but I go see the other band Chuck is in (not a Jazz band) whenever I an in, or around Roanoke. I have even concidered taking in a Najee show just to see how the two “faces of Chuck” compare to each other.

  10. hadar Avatar

    Mudflap, thanks for the comment. I see that you posted directly to WordPress, which means that “Disqus” (the system I’ve been using for commenting) must be down. That’s why none of the other comments are currently visible.

    I’m considering switching back to native WP, as Disqus isn’t progressing as fast as I’d have liked… 🙁

  11. hadar Avatar

    Mudflap, thanks for the comment. I see that you posted directly to WordPress, which means that “Disqus” (the system I’ve been using for commenting) must be down. That’s why none of the other comments are currently visible.

    I’m considering switching back to native WP, as Disqus isn’t progressing as fast as I’d have liked… 🙁

  12. Divided We Fall Avatar
    Divided We Fall

    Yes Chuck is indeed his name… Chuck Johnson is not only a great vocalist and guitarist but a hell of a friend as well. It’s great to no someone with such talent and ambition can take the time out of their busy schedule to answer questions that I am sure he is asked by hundreds of people time and time again. Your the man Chuck
    “If a clean concience is a soft pillow then I’ve been laying on a bed of stone”

  13. Divided We Fall Avatar
    Divided We Fall

    Yes Chuck is indeed his name… Chuck Johnson is not only a great vocalist and guitarist but a hell of a friend as well. It’s great to no someone with such talent and ambition can take the time out of their busy schedule to answer questions that I am sure he is asked by hundreds of people time and time again. Your the man Chuck
    “If a clean concience is a soft pillow then I’ve been laying on a bed of stone”

  14. hadar Avatar

    I just realized that I could relatively easily fix the problem of having lost the past Disqus comments in this thread.

    It’s a “cheat”, in that it won’t have them indexed by search engines, but at least anyone who cares to read more comments on this post can easily do so…

    Here is a direct link to the comments that are still stored on the Disqus server:

    http://opticality.disqus.com/al_jarreau_and_najee_at_the_beacon_theater_01/

  15. hadar Avatar

    I just realized that I could relatively easily fix the problem of having lost the past Disqus comments in this thread.

    It’s a “cheat”, in that it won’t have them indexed by search engines, but at least anyone who cares to read more comments on this post can easily do so…

    Here is a direct link to the comments that are still stored on the Disqus server:

    http://opticality.disqus.com/al_jarreau_and_naj

  16. Basher Brown Avatar
    Basher Brown

    I just wanted to fill in the blanks for you, The members of Najee’s band are: Kentric Morris- Drums, Hudson Gloria- Bass, Will Brock- Keyboards, Victor Williams- Percussion, Chuck Johnson- Guitar. You mentioned that the acoustics @ the Dave Koz show were terrible. I would be interested to know how you found the sound of Najee’s set. Thanks

  17. Basher Brown Avatar
    Basher Brown

    I just wanted to fill in the blanks for you, The members of Najee’s band are: Kentric Morris- Drums, Hudson Gloria- Bass, Will Brock- Keyboards, Victor Williams- Percussion, Chuck Johnson- Guitar. You mentioned that the acoustics @ the Dave Koz show were terrible. I would be interested to know how you found the sound of Najee’s set. Thanks

  18. hadar Avatar

    Thank you so much! I felt terrible that I didn’t remember the names (I’m getting older) and that I couldn’t easily find them. As I mentioned in the post, they were all great, and Kentric Morris was simply amazing!

    As for the acoustics, they were wonderful! They were wonderful for the Al Jarreau set as well.

    I’ve been to the Beacon now four times in the past 13 months. The Dave Koz show was the only one with bad acoustics, so I’m blaming it entirely on the sound board / sound person.

    The Allman Brothers Band was perfect. Alison Krauss and Union Station was excellent, with the sole exception of her microphone, which on occasion made her a little too loud relative to the band, when she powered through some high notes.

    Thanks again for taking the time to let me (and everyone else!) know the names of these wonderful and talented musicians!

  19. hadar Avatar

    Thank you so much! I felt terrible that I didn’t remember the names (I’m getting older) and that I couldn’t easily find them. As I mentioned in the post, they were all great, and Kentric Morris was simply amazing!

    As for the acoustics, they were wonderful! They were wonderful for the Al Jarreau set as well.

    I’ve been to the Beacon now four times in the past 13 months. The Dave Koz show was the only one with bad acoustics, so I’m blaming it entirely on the sound board / sound person.

    The Allman Brothers Band was perfect. Alison Krauss and Union Station was excellent, with the sole exception of her microphone, which on occasion made her a little too loud relative to the band, when she powered through some high notes.

    Thanks again for taking the time to let me (and everyone else!) know the names of these wonderful and talented musicians!

  20. richardz315 Avatar

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    OxjdlkTaylor

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    JoseRKnorn

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  23. awhitehurst Avatar
    awhitehurst

    Yes, the drummer for Najee is awesome! His name is Kentric Morris from North Carolina. He is a great performer and even a greater son. I am his mother and I was the one that he was conversating with while doing his drum solo. At the time, I didn't know that he was already on stage performing, so I just called to wish him well on his show (as Najee and the band always does an excellent performance), but he did not allow a phone call to come between his drum set and entertaining others. So, here's a shoutout to Kentric, Najee and the entire band. Keep doing what you do, the world loves hearing you!!!

  24. hadar Avatar

    Thank you _so much_ for taking the time to comment here. I was remiss in not updating the post above with Kentric's name after the first comment gave let me know his name. I have (finally) corrected that and put in a link to Kentric's MySpace page as well. He is indeed an extraordinary musician, and I've delighted to hear that he's a great son too! 🙂

  25. awhitehurst Avatar
    awhitehurst

    Yes, the drummer for Najee is awesome! His name is Kentric Morris from North Carolina. He is a great performer and even a greater son. I am his mother and I was the one that he was conversating with while doing his drum solo. At the time, I didn't know that he was already on stage performing, so I just called to wish him well on his show (as Najee and the band always does an excellent performance), but he did not allow a phone call to come between his drum set and entertaining others. So, here's a shoutout to Kentric, Najee and the entire band. Keep doing what you do, the world loves hearing you!!!

  26. hadar Avatar

    Thank you _so much_ for taking the time to comment here. I was remiss in not updating the post above with Kentric's name after the first comment let me know his name. I have (finally) corrected that and put in a link to Kentric's MySpace page as well. He is indeed an extraordinary musician, and I'm delighted to hear that he's a great son too! 🙂

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