What do you get when you put Kirk Whalum, Norman Brown, and Keiko Matsui together on the same ticket for A Gospel According to Jazz Christmas Concert? Two hours of brilliant, ingenious, musical magic that suffuses the spirit. Add special guests Kevin Whalum, John Stoddart, and Sheléa, and the result—the audience orbits the harmonious heavens while attending this otherworldly, incredibly entertaining concert at the West Angeles Church in Los Angeles on Friday evening, December 16, 2016.

Kirk Whalum (Photo: Sheryl Aronson)

Holiday cheer filled the church when the house band played “Linus and Lucy,” then things turned funky with “Killer Joe,” leading to more playful arrangements back and forth with “Linus and Lucy.”  As soon as the music faded, Kirk Whalum made his grand entrance delighting on the saxophone “Joy to the World.” Decked out in a cool, white tuxedo jacket with black trim with matching pants, a black t-shirt, and sporty black fedora, the veteran “sax man” led the way for the other musicians and singers.

Keiko Matsui (Photo: Kaylene Peoples)

Keiko Matsui entered, wearing a white gown, tickling the “ivory” beautifully on the Yamaha Grand Piano (that was delivered just for the occasion). The musical sequence continued with vocalists Sheléa and Kevin Whalum, singing “Joy to the World,” also both adorned in white.

Norman Brown (Photo: Sheryl Aronson)

Then Norman Brown wearing a white dress shirt over finely tailored white pants, entered with his chestnut colored, electric guitar strapped to his shoulder. With each additional performer, the high-powered energy of the entire band rocked the church. Soon everyone was clapping and singing “Hallelujah” egged on by Kirk Whalum; and that was just the first number!


Keiko Matsui (Photo: Sheryl Aronson)

Virtuoso pianist Keiko Matsui entertained the audience with her commanding performance of “Greensleeves.” In Keiko’s trademarked style, she played with incredible passion to a very appreciative and impressed audience. Kirk Whalum surprised us with his rendition of “Giant Steps.” And if that wasn’t impressive enough, he transitioned to Rimsky Korsakoff’s “Flight of the Bumble Bee.” Norman Brown brought us back to the 90s era as he performed some of his hits, then deftly scatted with his guitar.


Kevin Whalum (Photo: Sheryl Aronson)

More talent flowed on stage while the audience enjoyed the resonant voice of Kevin Whalum, crooning “The Christmas Song.” He also scatted skillfully, later mimicking a trombone . . . I closed my eyes and couldn’t tell that it was a human voice at all. And the audience really enjoyed John Stoddart’s vocal performance as he accompanied himself on his keyboard.

A surprise of the evening was Sheléa.  She sat down at the piano, played a beautiful opening and belted out her gospel ballad; the entire room was in awe as she took us over with her effortless vocal acrobatics. Sheléa continued to mesmerize us with exquisite control, starting quietly and reverently . . . then building to a powerful crescendo. she ran up and down a scale and vocally exploded into pure glory to which she received a standing ovation.

Sheléa & Kirk Whalum (Photo: Sheryl Aronson)

The mood turned a bit somber when Kirk Whalum talked about the tragic death of his friend Whitney Houston. Kirk Whalum was her sax player for many years, and he told the story of how her death made him understand more profoundly the lyrics to the song, “I Will Always Love You.” Whalum took a lone walk down the aisle, playing the melody on his saxophone as Sheléa belted out the chorus of the song.


The evening ended with a melody of everyone’s favorite Christmas carols, including “Féliz Navidad.” Kirk Whalum changed his outfit and was looking very festive, wearing a bright red Christmas suit (very comical). The whole church was standing, singing, and swaying to A Gospel According to Jazz Christmas Concert—an amazing evening filled with brilliant music. Happy Holidays Everyone!

5th Annual Gospel According to Jazz Closing Group Shot (Photo: Sheryl Aronson)

(Lead Photo: Kaylene Peoples)

Agenda Bloggers: Written by Sheryl Aronson for “Arting Around” | Want to comment?  Login/Register here.