Sunday night, the buoyant Johnny Rodgers Band rocked the roof off Iridium on West 51st Street. From jazzy Johnny Mercer standards with which his voice flirts, to his own playful, heartfelt songs, Johnny and the band had their audience snapping, clapping and even singing scat. (Johnny Rodgers’ microphone cords are notoriously long. He believes in participation).
Home to Mendocino (Johnny Rodgers), inspired by the name of a body wash!? and “written” in the shower, rides an exhilarating melodic whoosh: I’ve got my ear against the track and I can hear that train a-hummin’/The smoke is risin’ from the stack. I’m gonna climb aboard and ride…/ Mary Jean, another Rodger’s original, halts part way through at the sound of a whistle, segueing into Carnival Samba. Johnny’s told us we have permission to dance on the tables, he’ll cover expenses. No kidding. It would be easy to get up.
Danny Mallon’s drum sound reveals little indication of playing with one arm in a sling-his current state. He grins across the stage at Johnny as if they were out picking up a couple of women…which is how it feels when they sing together. They collude. Danny’s musicianship feels essential—as if nothing more or less than what he’s contributing will suffice. Even the cowbell. His deft touch is that of a performer with nothing to prove.
Ray Charles’ Georgia, written by Hoagy Carmichael, probably hasn’t sounded this good since the fifties. Bassist Brian Glassman’s eyes close as he leans into the slow, stylish phrasing; and again during a duo rendition of Too Marvelous for Words (Johnny Mercer/Richard Whiting). He wears an it’s-so-good-I-almost-can’t-stand-it expression, wincing with pleasure. The clarity of the bass is like fine instrumental diction. Almost acapella, Johnny’s voice is smooth, sure and under-the-skin sincere. When Johnny Rodgers does a love song, it gets done.
Songs by Sam Cooke, Memphis Curtis, and Bill Withers are respectively HOT, cool, and a wail so universal the band recently performed it all over the Pacific Islands to audience comprehension. Bring your sweet lovin’/Bring it on home to me Johnny sings, bouncing up and down on the piano stool. It should’ve been me/With that real fine chick… If you were ever going to let out a “yeah” in public, now would be a good time. The stage energy could power Times Square.
Lyrics sashay and spit through the air. Joe Ravo lets’r rip. I swear his guitar embellishments look like one of those Disney cartoons where you can see a hand in two places at once. He may have gotten his chops working with jazz greats, but the man definitely has his own style. Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone/Only darkness every day… Johnny’s an actor. These are not songs with attitude, they’re characters with attitude.
What A Wonderful World (Bob Thiele/George David Weiss) lets Johnny pull at heart strings you probably forgot you had. Its sheer, sweet sentimentality could soften a politician. On the other hand, the band’s version of Randy Newman’s You Can Leave Your Hat On, is about as steamy a bump and grind as you can get without garters and a pole. It’s practically combustible.
Johnny Rodgers’ natural authority with a song is second only to his seemingly effortless captivation of an audience. He celebrates a range of genres without sacrificing that elusive something, a signature sound. His excellent piano playing can veer towards George Shearing as skillfully as Jerry Lee Lewis and the mouth organ is clearly no stranger. He’s an award winning songwriter.
The genial virtuosity of The Johnny Rodgers Band insures a good time. These are four fine artists whose admiration, affection, and respect for one another is apparent. Stage banter is easy and low key. Their enjoyment is infectious. To attend a show is like going to a great party. You leave with an “up” that echoes for days.
Now I know it’s the truth/We’re not getting any younger/And the years are getting hard to pursue./In our youth? We are driven by a hunger/For the big important things we will do./But today/I’m not dreaming of tomorrow/’Cause the future is so clearly in view./All I see is One More Moment with You. One More Moment-–Johnny Rodgers
Watch for their return. Til then:
music can be purchased at johnnyrodgers, amazon.com, and iTunes
The Johnny Rodgers Band
Johnny Rodgers – Vocals, Piano, Mouth Organ
Joe Ravo- Guitars
Danny Mallon -Vocals, Drums, Percussion
Brian Glassman – Bass
Iridium Jazz Club
Photo credit: Ari Espay
Headshot photo credit: Bill Westmoreland