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The Johnny O’Neal Trio

Friday, December 17, 2021

$35 – $45
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Seating times: 7:00pm, 8:30, & 10:15pm. Doors open 30 minutes early.


JAZZ@theEDGE Festival! Presents The Johnny O’Neal Trio

Johnny O’Neal (piano, vocals)
Mark Lewandowski (bass)
Charles Goold (drums)

After forty-plus years as a professional pianist, vocalist and entertainer, Johnny O’Neal has earned the title of “master” with fellow musicians and audiences around the world. Highlights of his awe-inspiring career include stints with Ray Brown, Milt Jackson and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, as well as a Carnegie Hall debut in 1985 on solo piano opening for Oscar Peterson and induction into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame in 1998. There is little wonder he was tapped to play virtuoso pianist Art Tatum in the Academy Award-winning Ray Charles biopic Ray. While playing with Blakey, he accompanied some of the great jazz divas, including Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae. Johnny has also been tapped for appearances by Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Pass, Nancy Wilson, Anita O’Day, Lionel Hampton, Kenny Burrell, Sonny Stitt, Benny Golson, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis and Clark Terry, among others. Performances on the festival circuits in Canada, Europe, Australia, Japan, Israel and South Africa have gained him an international following. The Detroit native considers himself a piano player first, but was encouraged to sing in his sets more by Joe Williams. Johnny recalls Williams advising him, “If you’ve got it, flaunt it!” Astonishingly, he is largely self-taught. His playing evokes the influences imbued in him by his idols Oscar Peterson and Art Tatum, and he has reshaped these elements into his own very swinging and melodic approach. In live performances, he is apt to catch his audience off-guard with his blues shouting or soulfully rendered yet unpretentious vocalizations. Johnny explains, “I’m a tune guy. I know 1,500 songs. My father was a pianist and singer who emphasized that learning lyrics creates dynamics and a better interpretation of melody. I rehearse so that the bassist, drummer and I can get familiar with each other’s styles—not to set the songs we’ll play.” Hence, no two sets are ever alike. As the aptly named title of Johnny’s Fall 2017 release on Smoke Sessions Records suggests, he is truly in the moment.

The Black Cat Is Curious…
(9 questions, of course, with a bonus 10th)

1.  What things are inspiring your creative energy in this moment?
What we’ve been through with this pandemic…I’ve been able to reinvent myself knowing that life is so short.

2.  What music have you been listening to recently?

I’ve been recapping a lot of the music that I grew up hearing that inspired me to be the player I am today, revisiting some things and rediscovering others.

3.  What set you on your life’s path in music?

My dad was my role model, coach, and teacher musically. Johnny O’Neal Sr…he was a motivating force in my life as a singer first and also as a pianist, whereas I’m a pianist first and then a singer.

4.  What artist (living or dead) would you like to share a stage with for one night, and why?

I would like to share a stage with one of the new crooners of this generation, Gregory Porter. He is one of the most original vocalists we’ve heard in many, many years, who also sounds like a throwback to the singers of yesteryear.

5.  Your favorite vinyl is spinning.  What are you drinking?

I don’t always drink alcohol when I’m listening because I listen so intently to every nuance. One of my favorite drinks of late is cranberry-mango juice.

6.  Likely there are many…but name one person/place/thing that has helped shape you as an artist?

Carnegie Hall, when I had my debut there in 1985.

7.  You get one album to take to your desert island.  Name it.

If I could only bring one, I would probably take something not too serious that would make me laugh–maybe a comedy album from my generation,  like Redd Foxx, Richard Pryor, or Eddie Murphy.

8.  What is a musical or creative moment you’ll always remember?

When I was playing in Art Blakey’s band, and I had to write original compositions and arrange for horns for the first time.

9.  We’re stoked to have you on stage at Black Cat! What are you envisioning for your time with us?

To come in and give 100% of my musical experience and show business attributes. Because you have such a diverse audience, it keeps me on my toes.

10.  The pandemic has affected all of us. How has it affected both you personally and your music?

It created a serious drought where musicians were the last ones to get their work back. It felt like my career was over momentarily, and I was really struggling without that connection with an audience. I’m so excited to reunite with audiences and be a part of the healing process, just like I did recently for my 65th birthday party at Mezzrow in New York City.



Friday, December 17, 2021
$35 – $45