Sun, Dec 13: Bob Thompson’s Joy to Lewisburg

Bob Thompson 2015

I’m not much of a Christmas person. People who know me know that Christmas is hard for me. I awaken to snowy fields where I take on the weight of the world. I look through the lacy frosted windows and I miss everyone I’ve lost. I awaken from fitful dreams of travel and lost shoes, and I mourn over the sadness in a cruel world. I hear the heavy drum of turmoil and try to persevere through the skewed judgment in a world gone mad. I can’t watch the news because I’m too fragile. I sigh a sympathetic breath and say a prayer for children who have to learn early on that life is not fair. I question the commercialism of a gaudy season often so far from spirituality that it has become unrecognizable to me. So I take needle and thread and I make things. I take paper and scissors and create otherworldly realms. And so I look for those who are helping; the kindhearted and compassionate, the benevolent and sensitive, and I seek out my refuge, the refuge of music, and I let it carry me far beyond these earthly worries. I seek simple pleasures and count my blessings every moment of my life, no matter what hardships may befall me or those I love. From two winters ago, during the Polar Vortex, these were my thoughts: “The wind is howling like a banshee outside the lacy frosted windows, the dogs are huddled like leeches around me while I listen carefully to see if the water is still dripping. “Don’t make me leave these covers, and please let the power stay on…” are my bleak, desolate, yet uncomplicated, mantras. My needs are few, and the luxuriously hot bath the water gods allowed me to enjoy seemed to be all I needed to renew my weary spirit.” And so, bring the music…

Greenbrier Real Estate 2015
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The person to carry me to the heights of joyful elation, melodic rapture and an exultation of goodwill is the archangel Bob Thompson and his incredible band, appearing at the Asylum on Dec. 13th at 6pm. Sponsored by Casasanta, this holiday concert is an extension of the Joy to the World series mini-tour of Charleston (12/10), Wheeling (12/11), and Parkersburg (12/12). The aforementioned dates will include special guest vocalistLena Seikaly. Bob has been presenting this extraordinary holiday concert for nearly 25 years, and it is always moving, exceptional in its proficiency, selections, and loving inspiration in presentation.

Tickets are $25 in advance @Casasanta.org, and are $35 at the door. And it will sell out, so you better jump on it, children, jump on. I looked back at what I’d written about the concert of two years ago, and here’s what I had penned: “So back I ventured to hear the incredible Bob Thompson Unit in his Christmas Joy to the World concert. Can I tell you how loveable this man is? Can I mention that always, every single time I hear him perform, I get a little teary from the very beauty of his playing? This concert was sponsored by CASASANTA, and its fearless leader/music-lover Bill DePaulo, and it was a really remarkable evening. Joined by his usual entourage of gifted musical cohorts, they made their way through a dozen plus tunes, going off in their magical meanderings to bring the recognizable and familiar “Silver Bells” through “Joy to the World” (jazzing them out to pure perfection), but the in-betweens were where the enchantment was to be found. A song called “Still, Still, Still” was breathtaking, and the rendition of “Let It Snow” had seamless-running changes, groove-moves executed with humor and inventiveness, then moving on to a more non-Christmas-y selection, “Angel Eyes” (unless you mean a Christmas angel), which was dedicated to our darling Amy McIntire, whose presence at any musical occurance only adds to the joy. But the one, this time, that brought forth my tears was Bob’s divine interpretation of Joni Mitchell’s “River”, a song I’ve played and sung many times, but never in such a touching way as this. Prominently featuring the excellent saxophonist Doug Payne, and with the tight complexities and highly communicative interaction between bassist John Inghram and drummer Tim Courts, this was the one to bring the tears. And guitarist Ryan Kennedy is a gift to all of us, by the way, his playing encompassing a certain serenity, all the while absolutely mesmerizing us with his playful proficiency. Calm dexterity. What a band, what a night..”

The Asylum Lewisburg, WV
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This year, Bob Thompson was deservedly inducted into the WV MUSIC HALL OF FAME, along with fellow inductees Harry Van “Piano Man” Walls , Oby Edgar “Buddy” Starcher, James Edward Haley, Russ Hicks , Willie John Ellison. For more information, inspiration, educational ideas for teachers, former inductees and their bios, and on the WVMHOF in general, you can check out wvmusichalloffame.com/homepage.html.

Bob Thompson is known world-wide and is a class act all the way, in every sense of the word. This is part of the press release regarding his induction, and there is major truth in these words. “Pianist Bob Thompson is West Virginia’s ambassador of jazz and perhaps the state’s best-loved musician. He has touched many people’s lives as an entertainer and, as a teacher, has inspired dozens of young people to pursue careers in music.” He grew up in New York, but he’s been here plenty long enough for us to claim him as our own. He sang in street-corner doo-wop bands in the city, but came to us in the mid-60’s to study the trumpet and music education. He got the jazz fever, like so many of us, highly contagious, as you know, and switched to piano. He played with many bands on the local scene, including the Modern Jazz Interpreters. He collaborated with such guitarists as Larry Coryell and Kevin Eubanks, with violinist John Blake, drummer Omar Hakim, and bassist Gerald Veasley, and he blended many influential styles to reach the sound he is known for today, a delightful mix of classic jazz, bebop, blues, the sweet sentimentality of poignant ballads, but with a groovin’ thread of funk weaving through it all. I recall a birthday many years ago, and a friend had taken me to see Bob in Charleston. He played “You Don’t Know What Love Is” for me, and I wept inconsolably, so beautiful was his playing. My eyes were closed to the boisterous bar patrons all around, oblivious of the smoke and the bottles, and the debauchery, and in my mind, you could hear a pin drop. It went deep into my soul, and years later, I reminisce and ponder truly one of the most meaningful musical moments I can recall. Ahhh…oh, wait, I was swept away for a moment…So two of his albums were in Billboard’s top 25 in the contemporary jazz chart, and four of his recordings were in the Top 10 on the Radio and Records jazz chart. He’s performed all over the world, and is one of the most respected musicians you will ever encounter. He’s been the pianist on Mt. Stage since 1991, and, as I’ve mentioned, is famous for his Joy to the World performances, which are broadcast every year on Public Radio. So there’s the cred. But he’s so much more than that.

salt cave nov 2015
Enjoy Local!!! TheSaltCaveandSpa.com

He has a new recording, “Look Beyond the Rain”, has an official release date of January 8th, but I believe he will have a few advance copies with him at the Asylum, and you don’t want to miss getting your copy. How can I tell you how deep my love is for this gentle, amazing man? Go, go hear him, come out of there in love with the season after all. For a little while, you will find peace and solace, and shelter from the world’s storm.

– Susanna Robinson-Kenga. LBSPY #72, December 2015. Featured photo by Christina Entenmann, managing editor of LBSPY.

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