So we’re headed for the airport, and LaJuan, our driver, who was still excited about last night at Houston’s Arena Theatre, was going on and on about the white guy on stage with me who sounded so black and R&B and sang like Michael McDonald and Joe Cocker. And he was right. Joe Turano was all over and into Lost and Found. We share that song as a duet, originally recorded with Joe Cocker on the All I Got album. Last night, it had a special place amongst old favorites and Christmas music.

The Arena Theatre. In the Round with a revolving stage. Every seat is within 80 feet, with the 360° front row just 4 feet away. We’ve been here many times, and it’s still exciting and new and fun.

It’s Christmas time, so we featured some songs from the Christmas album. But we opened with a couple of hard-hitting rhythmic library classics: Never Givin’ Up and then Black and Blues, then Larry Williams’ new arrangement of Winter Wonderland, and by now everyone knows we’re gonna weave these two themes all night long. And we go back to the library for some hand-clapping jazz-funk with Cold Duck and then they sing like the church choir on After All to touch my heart.

Carol of the Bells is challenging and complex to the ears, and especially the vocal chords. Every time we do it, you can hear a pin drop. The Joe Turano arrangement brilliantly allows this nonstop piece to breath by interjecting space between the sections so that you can absorb and even reflect on the quick paced previous section. They cheer when it’s finished—Oh God I’m thrilled!

Earlier this morning, we visited radio in person: Kandi at Majic 102 and Terry at KHJZ. The warmth of their reception turned me upside down. What a thrilling surprise to be appreciated at contemporary radio with such genuine spirit. A great unexpected gift to me. Thank you, and thank you, Chris Walker! You made the calls and opened the doors for me and that radio audience to renew connections.

And then you walked onstage to sing a duet with me on your arrangement of O Come, All Ye Faithful. I’ll never forget the audible gasp from the audience when you opened your mouth and poured out your big magnificent voice, so flexible in new gospel phrasings. I was so proud! If they didn’t know you before, they do now, and somewhere out there, Dr. Robert Morgan was choking back tears of pride, and so was Mark Simmons on stage, on drums, another student of Doc Morgan. What a kaleidoscope of feelings and emotions on display for everyone to see and celebrate with us.

I’ve begun to wonder if I could tolerate the sweltering summer heat here and bask in your really cool climate of “Hello Houston- This is mission control.” Do you read me loud and clear, Houston? I love it here and I love you.


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Riviera Maya Jazz Festival

Hello—Can I be the poster boy for vacations in Riviera Maya, and especially at Jazz Festival time?

I wanted to call home and tell Susan and Ryan, “Hey, this is the place.” Most resort communities around the world promote and cater to “Rich Elegance” and it always comes with a tension and anxiousness of ‘Let’s be better than them’ and ‘Get out your jewels and finest displays.’

Oh my dear Riviera, I wish you every success as a playground for the rich and famous, but don’t sacrifice your natural relaxed, open, and friendly spirit. It’s all there in the people of Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. It’s in the air.

Perfectly in keeping was this festival place for music, right on the beach with sand under your feet. Bring the kids—Music and food and drink, and all sponsored by the local government and department of tourism really who get it! That it’s a good idea to take some tax dollars and spend them in ways that lift the hearts and spirits of the local people, and people from all over the planet. Free music, and dance your ass off!

So we played good music, inspired by the whole situation, especially all these new faces so wide-eyed and expectant. We made a lot of new friends that day.

Thank you, Riviera Maya Jazz Festival, and thank you to the people. You really touched my heart.

Love, Al

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UNCF Gig in Indianapolis

We did a beautiful fundraiser date in Indy in support of UNCF, the United Negro College Fund. Established in the 40s, the Fund today supports 65,000 students at 39 traditionally black colleges and universities across the nation.

It was so natural to say, “Yes, I’ll be there.” Education is very important stuff, yet we as a nation are lagging way behind in almost all areas of academic achievement. Funding for schools and teachers is horrible and decreasing.

So we played big and loud for school and schooling, and the people came down to the front to the dance floor, and stayed there for the whole set. Andrea Neely, UNCF Assistant Development Director, led the way, coming right to the edge of the stafe. I held her hand and serenaded her. That was fun and set the tone. Laugh and have a ball and raise some money, too.

Thank you, UNCF!

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Nov 4- Dallas, TX – Tom Joyner & Jazz Roots

We did more than a concert in Dallas this time. A concert would be quite enough. In fact, that’s the beautiful standard norm. But sometimes there’s a convergence of unexpected circumstances that really makes a bright constellation.

How about this: Tom Joyner’s morning show broadcasts out of Dallas 5am to 9 daily. He’s got to be the hottest most listened to DJ in the world. He invited us to play live on the show from his red velvet cake studio with pink grand piano, an eight foot tall Green Satin Geico Gecko, next to an eight foot tall “Morton’s Salt Girl” doll, and wonderful, fun artwork on all the wall space that wasn’t covered by LP covers—Mesmerizing… A grown up child’s playroom.

On Monday we dropped by for a setup and sound check. We played almost entirely unplugged—no electronics—snare drum and brushes. The grin of delight and joy on Tom’s face was the child’s face in the play room I will never forget.

So why not play some birthday party music the next night for his wife Donna! I’m laughing and grinning myself right now… Tom pulled up a chair in the middle of the dance floor—Eight feet from the stage—with Donna on his knee, both of them singing along with the band in the “play room.”

The concert night was a night of ‘firsts.’ The first time for me and the great Ramsey Lewis to share the Bill. For sure, we were the first Jazz Music to the brand new Winspear Opera House. So out walks Larry Rosen to talk about Jazz Roots: A new youth outreach program that will be performance and educationally oriented emphasizing the global diversity of Jazz which must be preserved and taught. You go, Larry!

It was a beautiful night and a beautiful stay in Dallas. Thanks Tom and Donna! Thank you, Larry, and Ramsey, and everyone at the Winspear!

Love, Al

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Oct 17 – Cincinnati’s Healthcare Connection Benefit Fundraiser

Funds are designated for lower income families and individuals. This year, diabetes was the focus. I offered praise and applause to them all night long… Job #1, our most important work and activity on this planet, should be taking care of each other, especially since we’ve seen government default so grossly over the past 2 decades. I won’t elaborate. I do have faith in Obama’s wisdom and vision.

This evening was the beautiful antithesis to default and myopic detachment. There were so many sponsoring corporations and private businesses. I can’t remember them if I tried. But Proctor & Gamble stands out for me because my Lincoln High School buddy Sam Moore has worked for them for years and has always been advocating for special projects throughout his career, and P&G has been generously involved in the community. My opening comment was, “God is here”… When people respond so generously to other people’s needs, God is there.

Another buddy from Lincoln High School was there—Guy Vance. We’d been playing phone tag for weeks, but hadn’t seen each other since high school. Then another surprise, David Lives, from Ripon, my class, 1962.

Well believe it or not, we did some music, too, and Aronoff Hall rocked good and hard. There was a guy down front, just to my right, who was so into it that the audience must have thought he was on salary. That kind of enthusiasm is contagious.

Thank you Cincinnati! Thank you, Ohio! What a great state. So many wonderful cities to see and play in, and so I have for many years. Thank you, Buckeyes—Your Fall colors are gorgeous.

Love, Al

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Oct 15 – Clearwater Jazz

“When I say ‘Clearwater’—You say ‘Jazz’”
And they did. “Clearwater”…”Jazz.”  That little exchange was a fun  beginning, signaling the spirit of the afternoon. “Hey boat people!”… (There were boats on a close by waterway.) “I want my money,” I yelled. Fun.

I still can’t believe that this was my first time playing there. And this was their 30th year, and it’s always been a ‘free’ festival for the people. That requires some serious fun raising all year long, for 30 years. That’s more than impressive hard work and commitment.

We played under a big white tent that covered the stage. It was still plenty light outside when we went on. Seats up close to the stage were surrounded by blankets with picnic snacks, and then concession stands with more food and beer and wine were on the outside. Fun, fun, fun under the sun, and their response to the music, generous and enthusiastic the whole time. And the band was smokin’.

We met a bunch of the sponsors backstage and I was glad to run into Shannon West, one of the smartest music journalists around. Go Shannon!

Thank you, Clearwater! I had a great time. Let’s do it again next year.

Love, Al

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