Jeremy, AKA “The Kingpin,” tenor saxophonist and singer, led the Equinox Little Big Band along with Clay Johnson at the April 1 Community Concerts of RSF event held at the Village Church in Rancho Santa Fe. The Equinox home is Savannah, Georgia, also the home of the lyricist of more than 1,500 songs, Johnny Mercer. Jeremy joked, “We’re gonna play ‘em all” and followed with, “This is the greatest band in the world in their price range,” which sparked laughter and stopped the band in mock protest. Clay, AKA “Mr. Showtime,” opened the concert on a high note with “On A Wonderful Day Like Today.” Suave, in his steel blue suit, he followed with “Almost Like Being in Love.”
The larger band is also known as The Fabulous Equinox Orchestra but the smaller “Little Big Band” we enjoyed in RSF is made up of three saxophones, two trumpets, one trombone (plus Clay plays trombone), piano, guitar, bass and drums. They launched into “I Only Have Eyes for You” in a Latin vein featuring Jeremy’s first tenor sax solo.
Afterwards, Clay said they always have the audience do a meet and greet for a couple of minutes, which garnered laughter when the band joined in, approaching each other on stage to shake hands and introduce themselves. To the amusement of the audience, Clay was taken by surprise not realizing just how friendly the RSF audience was as they gleefully exceeded their 2 minutes time limit! They changed up the programming with Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
The arrangement started off fairly straightforward and then shifted to a 12/8 groove, giving it a gospel sound. Clay explained the segue into the gospel sound was in memory of his great-grandfather, a circuit preacher in Turkey, Texas. Clay then sang “Cherokee Maiden” in memory of Bob Wills, also from Turkey, who made this tune famous – and also, in-between fiddling and singing, was the barber who cut Clay’s great-granddaddy’s hair! Jeremy was a former president of The Friends of Johnny Mercer and recalled that the Johnny Mercer fans were angry about Frank Sinatra’s first divorce. An elderly woman wrote Johnny Mercer that she wanted to be around when someone broke Frank Sinatra’s heart. Mercer wrote this lyric into a hit song and split the royalties of the song, “I Wanna Be Around” with the elderly fan. Of course, this was the next song by Equinox. Clay had fun with “It Had Better Be Tonight,” another Johnny Mercer tune from the soundtrack of The Pink Panther 2, sung with a spicy Latin arrangement by Michael Buble.
Clay performed Mercer’s drinking song and huge hit for Frank Sinatra, “One For My Baby,” with an admirable and humorous imitation of Sinatra. Jeremy took his turn singing a Harry Connick Jr. song, “Light the Way.” It had the contagious New Orleans street beat with an extremely funky bridge. The second half opened with a lightening fast version of “Get Me to the Church On Time.” Keeping the breathtaking pace was Sinatra’s big hit, “Come Fly with Me.” The New Orleans street beat returned with the hymn, “Just Over in the Glory Land.”
For their finale, Clay, on trombone, Jeremy and the rest of the horns walked down into the audience blasting that Dixie sound towards the heavens. Meanwhile, on stage the contrabass player hilariously played his instrument across his knee, Rockabilly style, as Jacob, the guitarist, lay on his back, kicking his legs up in the air. They segued into “Little Liza Jane” and the ultimate Dixie tune, “When the Saints Go Marching In.” People were already on their feet before they finished, clapping in tempo, and then gave The Equinox Little Big Band a huge standing ovation!
Audience members left the closing concert of the Community Concerts season on a high note, having enjoyed the evening sharing a picnic supper, “potluck” style, with their friends at tables of 10, concluding with the exciting performance of the Equinox Little Big Band. Do join Community Concerts of RSF for their new 2017-18 season which begins with the 3 Redneck Tenors, Sept. 29. Buy your 2017-2018 season tickets by May 31 for the Early Bird price, only $200. Remember, Community Concerts is the best party in town! Tickets and short video clips of each concert are available at www.ccrsf.org.
-- Dana Wheaton is a Professor of Music at Orange Coast College