Austin, TX– One World Theater

I’ve been here too very precious few times in my career and have always felt a kind of loss at not having a more continuous relationship with this really special musical audience. So having this return to Austin just after an appearance here 3 years ago is truly satisfying for me. This is a university town, and as cosmopolitan as lots of big city schools, with people coming from all over the world. I love schools. And North Texas State, one of the great Jazz schools in the world, is just up the street.

Well, one of my heroes was my first keyboard player and writing partner in my band who joined me on my first record We Got By and first several tours, a young player named Tom Canning. He spent a lot of time in this neighborhood playing music and developing Jazz sensitivities and abilities. And he would tout about all the other music that was going on in the Texas area, including North Texas State, and with hometown hero Willie Nelson. In fact, first time we came to this neighborhood in the 70s, Tom said, “Look, man, all you have to do is mention Willie Nelson, and you’ll be an immediate success.” I think about that often, and in fact, hung out with Tom Canning just a few short weeks ago.

But this is the first time we’ve come to a fabulous little theater of 300 seats called “One World Theater.” Proprietor and Johnny on the Spot Promoter is Hartt Stearns, with his wife Nada, a real good singer herself, right by his side. Hartt also was and is a percussionist. When you realize that Hartt comes from music as a profession, you get a real clear picture of the love and special care that went into the creation of this special little jewel. 300 seats is not a lot of seats, but he had the nerve to envision a miniature-sized red velvet seat performing arts center-type venue. First row is sweating distance from the edge of the stage. This has the immediacy of being in a club-kind of setting. Just perfect for their Jazzy format. Chris Botti is here the night after me, and Kenny G on the way. He met us at the hotel in his personal van, and took us to do morning television. And then, he transported us to soundcheck and the evening’s performances.

We did two shows, one at 7 and one at 9:30, to the welcoming applause and excitement of an audience that welcomed us like we were long-awaited returning friends. And that was the case. They were attentive and alert. And as responsive as any group of “Jazz Enthusiasts” you’ll ever meet. When the guys soloed, they really heard from these people. Believe me, that pushes you on to higher ground. Quite often along the way, I would mention my numbers of years in the business, including me and George Duke, and our 1965 CD Live at The Half Note, and the audience’s appreciation for my own personal little marathon was really satisfying… Everyone knows I’m almost 50 years old.

When Larry switched from Keyboards to Flute, their hands seemed to be already out in front of them in pre-applause position. And when Joe Turano played his horn solos on tenor and soprano, and then doubled back to his keyboard setup, they knew they were getting something special. When John Calderon stopped his fiery electric guitar solos and picked up the acoustic, and walked to the front of the stage and sat down, and began to play classical acoustic, … It was ON. Superdrummer Mark Simmons made their hair blow back with his bass drum, and his hands quicker than a cat’s made them laugh and smile. You miss these things when you’re yards away. These days Chris Walker walks forward to where John had just been, and introduces some solo bass lines for Take 5. In these moments, I’m an observer, too, and get caught up in these very musical and charming theatrics. It’s a journey, it’s a trip—The scenery, the sounds, are lots of fun.

Almost as though the people leaving brushed elbows with and passed on their energy and delight to the newcomers, we played to just as enthusiastic an audience as the first show. Four rows back on the right side was a 10 or 12 year old grade-school girl who squirmed and laughed and applauded in delight. I was even more delighted. Maybe her folks play my music at home?!?! Maybe this was her first live music concert?! Maybe, maybe, maybe, etc. But there she was. Havin’ a great time, and won’t soon forget this night, and I hope she’ll be telling her friends at school about it.

For me to be able to see all of this in the light spilling off of the stage and into the audience with everyone in the audience close enough to see their smile was making me a bit giddy myself. I laughed and quipped and joked with them because it was obvious they were into it and gettin’ it. These days we’re closing the evening with a Roof Garden/Reach For It encore medley, and by then, everybody’s up dancin’. That’s the best.

I went out front and signed CDs, and took photos, and did a lot of huggin’. What a great night in Austin. I called them “Austin Strong”. Thank you. That was Oh-So-Satisfying.


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