Stevie Wonder was the surprise musical guest at the all-star Wave Of Peace smooth jazz fundraising show on Sunday (October 14) at the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles. His appearance prompted an already highly charged audience to leap to its feet. Accompanying himself on piano during one of the last sets of the three-hour show, Wonder launched into some straight-ahead jazz variations on “Giant Steps” before playing compositions like “Overjoyed” and “Ribbon In The Sky.”
Wonder was the only previously unannounced guest on a bill packed with smooth jazz greats. The event was organized by saxophonist Dave Koz and veteran broadcaster Pat Prescott, who together host the L.A. morning show at KTWV “The Wave.” Although tickets were free, attendees were asked to give freely at one of four Red Cross stations set up at the Forum during the show. Some 15,000 people attended, but estimates as to how much money was raised for disaster relief have not yet been released.
Patriotism and leather were the two ruling themes for the three-hour show, with the audience standing for all American anthems, and with many of the performers donning black leather or brightly colored python pants. The show opened with footage from the New York and Washington, D.C., plane crashes underscored by a recording of Sting’s “Fragile.” Another video clip of young children with the theme “I Believe” was followed by a live introduction by a group of Los Angeles schoolchildren. Dave Koz and Kenny G entwined their mournful horn lines on “The Star-Spangled Banner” before Kenny G played two songs.
The show then shifted into higher gear with a band featuring Jeff Lorber on keyboards, Luis Conte on percussion, Sergio Gonzalez on drums, Bill Sharpe on bass, Tony Maiden on guitar, and Gregg Karukas on keys. Joining the backup ensemble for solo stints in the spotlight were guitarist Norman Brown, and then trumpeter Rick Braun and saxophonist Kirk Whalum on “That’s The Way Love Goes.” Whalum took the crowd to church with his gentle reading of “Softly, Tenderly” from his Hymns In The Garden album. Singer Phil Perry’s soaring falsetto invigorated the John Lennon gem “Imagine,” which segued into “Hey Jude,” with saxophonist Everette Harp providing backup.
A succession of smooth jazz stars followed, with bassist Wayman Tisdale offering “You Can’t Hide Love.” Brian Culbertson picked up a trombone to join a horn section featuring Najee, Koz, and Braun that accompanied David Benoit on the pianist’s new composition, “After 911.” Guitarist Jeff Golub offered “Pick Up The Pieces” and traded licks with Braun, and Keiko Matsui performed the title track to her current album, Deep Blue. Keyboardist George Duke, bassist Marcus Miller, and drummer Harvey Mason took over so Miller could render “Amazing Grace” on the bass clarinet before the trio launched into the Beatles’ “Come Together” with a heavenly choir provided by Patti Austin, Brenda Russell, Phil Perry, and the four Perri sisters. As he’d told LAUNCH previously, guitarist Peter White played “America The Beautiful,” and was joined by Jeff Golub, who contrasted his searing electric tones with White’s gentler acoustic sounds.
Spanish guitarist Marc Antoine was joined by Najee and singer Austin for his hit “Mas Que Nada,” and then Austin sang a cappella versions of two powerful and appropriate tunes: “Walk On” and “The Impossible Dream.” The audience also responded enthusiastically to the encouraging words of Tom Frost, who lost his daughter, Boston University graduate Lisa Frost, on the Boston flight that crashed into the World Trade Center. Frost exhorted the audience to give to the Red Cross.
Brenda Russell sang her hit “Get Here,” after which the audience was treated to a dream horn section when Boney James, Euge Groove, Dave Koz, and Kirk Whalum blazed through a Boney composition. Al Jarreau, after confiding that he had more recently lost a niece to tragic circumstances, led the audience in “God Bless America” before being joined by pianist Freddy Ravel on his hit “We’re In This Love Together.” An ovation met singer James Ingram, who joined Patti Austin to sing “Somewhere Out There” before Ingram sang an emotional version of R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly.” After Stevie Wonder’s surprise set, Koz invited all the musicians back on stage for the finale, “What’s Going On.”
For a show pulled together within three weeks and featuring more than 30 top performing artists, the concert was a towering musical achievement with great performances and more than a little emotion. The show has been recorded both on audio and video, but there is no word yet on whether or not the Wave Of Peace event will be made available for purchase.