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Exodus to Jazz Ends its 2006-2007 Season with the Return of Johnny O'Neal

To cap its 2006-2007 season, the exciting Exodus To Jazz series is presenting the Johnny O’Neal Trio at VENU Resto-Lounge and Niteclub on St. Paul for two sets each on May 23rd and May 24th. Pianist O'Neal is returning to the Exodus to Jazz stage with his favorite trio members—bassist Essiet Essiest and drummer Sylvia Cuenca. I've missed O'Neal's earlier appearances and I'm looking forward to hear him and to hear Ms. Cuenca's great drumming again. I'll share some of the material about O'Neal and his trio from Exodus to Jazz promoter Jose DaCosta's press release to provide you more detail on the treat you'll hear if you bring yourself down to St. Paul Street:

Johnny O’Neal’s enormous musical gifts became apparent to Rochester jazz lovers during his first ETJ appearance. Further astonishing is that Johnny has a repertoire of over 1500 songs and is largely self-taught.  His playing evokes the influences imbued in him by his idols Oscar Peterson and Art Tatum; he has reshaped these elements into his own very swinging and melodic approach.

Three notable events in Johnny’s career that continue to inspire him: an appearance at Carnegie Hall early in his career when he was the opening solo pianist for Oscar Peterson, his 1998 induction into the Jazz Hall of Fame and playing the role of Art Tatum in the award winning feature film “Ray”.

Johnny remains in high demand as both group leader and side-man; the list of acclaimed musicians with whom he has performed includes legends Ray Brown, Milt Jackson, Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughn, Joe Pass, Nancy Wilson, Anita O’Day, Lionel Hampton, Kenny Burrell, Sonny Stitt, Benny Golson, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis and Clark Terry.

Sylvia Cuenca returns to Rochester after her recent ETJ appearance when she accompanied Denise Thimes in March, 2007. Since that date she has had several notable engagements with Clark Terry including an extended gig at New York’s Blue Note and an appearance at the 32nd Bern International Jazz Festival. In addition, Sylvia was a member of the trio that accompanied Denise Thimes during her performance for the Queen of England and President George Bush.

In addition performing extensively with legends Clark Terry and Joe Henderson, Sylvia has performed with Billy Taylor, Frank Foster, Kenny Barron, Eddie Henderson, Michael Brecker, Hilton Ruiz, Marion McPartland, Houston Person and Etta Jones, Dianne Reeves.

Essiet Essiest provides the trio a firm rhythmic center and impressive melodic runs often highlighted with dramatic percussive accents. Since his last ETJ appearance, Essiest has maintained an extensive schedule, including performances with rising jazz vocalist Tessa Souter whom he will accompany on June 9th during the Rochester International Jazz Festival.

Essiest was the last bassist for Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and has performed with Freddie Hubbard, Cedar Walton, Kenny Garrett, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Bobby Hutcherson, Pat Martino, Kenny Barron, Ralph Peterson, Danilo Perez, Nick Russo, Deborah Davis, Sam Rivers, Benny Golson and the Blue Note All Stars.

Shows are at 7:00 pm and 9:00 pm. Tickets purchased in advance are $ 17.00, available through TicketWeb  (search for “Johnny O’Neal” or “Exodus To Jazz”) and $ 20.00 at the door (or by calling 585-325-9162).

The Exodus to Jazz series has been one of the best things going for live jazz in Rochester this past couple of years.  Jose has brought in a slew of top notch jazz talent and presented them in a sophisticated setting that is focused on the music.  The shows I've experienced there this year remind me of the sets I saw when I lived in Chicago.  This is the last show of this year's series.  I look forward to Jose's announcement of next year's lineup.  I encourage you to come out and support this series so it stays around for awhile!

This post was originally published on JazzRochester.


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