Yesterday afternoon, I made it out to the Rose Blumkin Performing Arts Center (20th and Farnam Sts., Omaha, NE 68102) to check out the River City Theatre Organ Society's (a club I joined in 1984, the year it celebrated its first birthday) annual extravaganza.
Darn right it was a humdinger!
The featured artist was Portland, OR native- and theatre organ legend- Jonas Nordwall.
Right from the start of the concert, Jonas showed the style that's enabled him to perform on four continents (North America, Asia, Australia, and Europe). It's a style where he's equally adept at both classical playing and pop music.
The outing was titled "A Sentimental Musical Journey," and Jonas started out with (what else?) "Sentimental Journey."
Right after that, he told the Rose Theater's audience (the place was 90% full) that a sentimental musical journey doesn't always have to be confined to the songs of the 1930s and 1940s...then he went out and proved his point by going back to the venue's three-manual, 21-rank Wurlitzer pipe organ (built in 1927) to fire up three tunes that were popular in the 1960s: "Spanish Flea," by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass; "Unchained Melody," which was popularized in the 1950s by Roy Hamilton, Al Hibbler, and bandleader Les Baxter (in separate recordings) before the Righteous Brothers got hold of it a decade later; and Frankie Valli's first smash as a solo artist, "Can't Take My Eyes Off You."
Jonas didn't leave the 1950s behind, covering that decade with Erroll Garner's most famous tune, "Misty." And the man with thirty highly-acclaimed recordings to his credit jumped into the 1980s by stringing together four numbers from "Les Miserables," including "Bring Him Home" and the one that made a name out of Susan Boyle, "I Dreamed a Dream."
Just YOU try to tell someone it's impossible to feel sentimental about the Carter-Reagan-Bush the Elder years.
Jonas showed his classical side by playing Manuel de Falla's "Ritual Fire Dance," and to top off the first half of the extravaganza, our featured artist cued a 1929 silent movie, "Big Business." (In it, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy tried to sell James Finlayson a Christmas tree. And no, Stan and Ollie weren't successful.)
Jonas Nordwall's got the kind of music you can close your eyes and really visualize.
Well, I like to think so!
The organist for Rip City's First United Methodist Church came back out for the second half of the show by knocking out "Pietro's Return," a 1913 march by accordion legend Pietro Deiro. Jonas- who took up the squeezebox at the age of four- then shared an anecdote about Pietro's brother Guido...who happened to be married for a time to Mae West. (That's right...THAT Mae West!)
Then Jonas turned the show over to another accordion legend...Omaha's very own Johnny Ray Gomez.
Jonas actually turned it over to a two-man band, for it was Johnny Ray and his namesake son, keyboardist Johnny Ray Gomez IV.
Johnny Ray- actually Johnny Ray III- teamed up with Johnny Ray the Younger to deliver a lighthearted, freewheeling, rollicking set that started out with a mashup of "12th Street Rag" and "The Glow Worm." The Two Gomezes then fused together "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" and "Only You (and You Alone)," two of the biggest hits recorded by the Platters...the singing group Johnny Ray IV served as music director/pianist during the second half of the 1980s before he came back to Nebraska to start his own music production company, OnTrack, Inc.
Johnny Ray the Elder then stated: "We haven't done a polka."
And that was all the more reason for the Two Johnny Rays to switch the music to the durable "Just Because."
JRG IV got the spotlight next as he and his dad eased on into Floyd Cramer's "Last Date," followed by JRG III musically paying tribute to those veterans (and veterans' spouses) who'd made it to the Rose.
Their last tune together was Vangelis' "Chariots of Fire," featuring the keyboard work of IV.
After that, I was hoping that the three men would take the next tune(s).
Didn't happen yet...for Jonas went back to the Wurlitzer and covered the next two numbers by himself: "My Way" and "The Stars and Stripes Forever," the former a tribute to Joyce Markworth, the RCTOS member (and club president Bob's wife) who unexpectedly passed away this past March.
The two numbers proved to be enough to merit Jonas a well-deserved standing ovation...and that ovation proved to be enough to lead Jonas and the Two Johnny Rays to, at last, team up...for "Sweet Georgia Brown."
Well, that did it...RCTOS really nailed it. Made those hundred of people at the Rose happy...happy to be witness to three legends.