On Stage: Koz & Friends bringing the horns to Rivers Casino

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Summer Horns

A few months ago, Dave Koz & Friends returned to the concert trail with the “Summer Horns 2021 Tour.”

The tour will visit the Delaware Valley this weekend with a show on September 17 at Rivers Casino (1001 North Delaware Avenue, Philadelphia, www.riverscasino.com).

On the “Summer Horns 2021 Tour,” Koz has been joined by a trio of special guests — jazz/soul/gospel saxophonist Kirk Whalum, jazz/blues saxophonist Mindi Abair and multi-instrumentalist Vincent Ingala.

Whalum has released over 25 solo albums to date, including “Cache,” his first No. 1 album, “For You,” “Unconditional” and “Roundtrip.” A 12-time GRAMMY nominee, Whalum won his first GRAMMY award in 2011 for Best Gospel Song (“It’s What I Do” featuring Lalah Hathaway) alongside life-long friend and gifted songwriter, Jerry Peters. The tenor saxophonist has won two Stellar Awards, Gospel music’s highest honor, and received three Dove Award nominations and an NAACP Image Award nomination.

Whalum recorded the GRAMMY-nominated collaborative album “Joined at the Hip” with Bob James and is an in-demand session player, recording with such artists as Barbra Streisand, Al Jarreau, Luther Vandross, Larry Carlton, Quincy Jones and Whitney Houston, among others. It’s his sax heard on the mega-hit, “I Will Always Love You.” Whalum is a founding member of the popular soul/jazz group BWB, alongside Norman Brown and Rick Braun.

Abair is one of the most sought-after saxophonists. The two-time GRAMMY nominee has been electrifying audiences with her dynamic live performances and sax prowess since her 1999 debut album. In 2014, Mindi received her first GRAMMY nomination in the Best Pop Instrumental Album category, followed by a 2015 GRAMMY nomination for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album for her solo LP, “Wild Heart,” featuring the late Gregg Allman, Joe Perry, Trombone Shorty, Booker T. Jones, Keb’ Mo’, and Max Weinberg.

Abair has also gained recognition as the featured saxophonist on “American Idol,” for sitting in with Paul Shaffer on “The Late Show with David Letterman” and The Roots on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” or as the first solo saxophonist touring with Aerosmith since 1973. She has garnered 12 Number 1 radio hits in the jazz and blues world and two Number 1 spots on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Album chart. In 2018, Mindi Abair and The Boneshakers won eight Independent Blues Awards.

Ingala has blasted into an exciting stratosphere of his own making since his 2010 critically acclaimed debut album, “North End Soul.” Still in his twenties, the charismatic saxophonist was named Billboard Smooth Jazz Artist of the Year in 2012 and Sirius XM Watercolors Breakthrough Artist of the Year in 2013. His music is consistently found atop the most noteworthy music charts in the world, including six No. 1 hits on the Billboard Smooth Jazz Chart, and 18 singles in the Billboard Smooth Jazz Top 10.

Ingala possesses a deep knowledge and appreciation for all genres of music. His versatility on multiple instruments makes him sought after both live, and as a producer in the studio. His latest effort and sixth studio album, 2020’s “Echoes of the Heart,” finds Vincent playing almost every instrument throughout the entire album, along with eight original compositions, and featuring special guests David Benoit, Steve Oliver and Chris Geith.

“I’ve been doing these summer horn shows for quite a number of years – pulling together some of my favorite artists,” said Koz, during a phone interview last week.

“This tour has Kirk Whalum, who is my favorite living sax player, and Mindi Abair, who was with me on one of my earlier tours.

“It also has this young gun – Vincent Ingala. I’ve known him since he was 16. I just completely fell for this kid. He’s 28 now and he’s established his own name.”

Koz has been able to survive the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s a weird summer,” said Koz, an 11-time Grammy Award nominee. “Now, it’s so great to see smiling people. I’m so excited. The tour started in July and it’s running until the end of October.

“I was concerned that some of the shows might be cancelled. The main thing is to keep our audiences safe and to keep our band safe. If one of us goes down, the whole tour goes down. We need to be flexible.

“Overall, when we hit the stage, all that other stuff falls away. We want to come in, do a great show and then get out of there.

“We’re excited to be part of live music coming back. A great benefit is that the people who do come out are being entertained.”

As always, the tour is greater than the sum of its parts.

“Summer Horns is very collaborative,” said Koz. “Most of us are onstage most of the time and there is a lot of ensemble stuff. There are songs from each of us and a variety of ensemble arrangements – a lot of different combinations. Everybody gets a chance to do their own music.

“There is a great vibe onstage. It’s the right combination of human beings. This is the summer of seeing how healing music can be.”

Koz’ set lists includes songs from his recent albums, “A New Day,” and his collaboration with Cory Wong, “The Golden Hour,” as well as hits from through the course of his career.

“I made two records last year because I needed something to do,” said Koz. “The ‘A New Day’ project was completed virtually during the pandemic. The thing that was amazing was that everybody was home and was still able to play on the album.”

“A New Day” is Koz’ 20th album as an artist and first collection of original material in 10 years. Conceived and recorded completely under the umbrella of COVID, this album’s purpose is to give the listener a “musical hug.” With a roster of very special guests, all of whom recorded their parts virtually, this album’s release date is October 9, 2020 — 30 years and one day after the release of his debut album (“Dave Koz” was released in 1990 on Capitol Records).

“In April 2020, I was reaching out to musicians,” said Koz. “They responded and we got tracks that were filled with energy and love.

“With the project with Cory, the gestation process was that he stalked me on the internet and wanted us to play together. I liked it because it was young people making music for young people. Cory and I had a natural music kinship.

“Finally on September 30, I went to Minneapolis and – masks on – we filmed everything, and it worked. It really was about exploration for me – high energy and very live. I’ve been making music for 30 years and I don’t want to repeat myself.”

Video link for Dave Koz – https://youtu.be/1LHK1RVA2vg.

The show on September 17 will start at 8 p.m. Ticket prices start at $49.


When people think of the North and the South in America, they usually think about the eastern part of the country and the segments of the nation that were divided by the Mason-Dixon Line.

There is also a very defined North and South in California, but the differences are more cultural than political. The Los Angeles area and Bay Area around San Francisco couldn’t be more different.

One of the noticeable differences is the music that has developed in the diverse regions over the last half century. San Francisco’s musical roots involve blues, straight-ahead rock and psychedelia. In Southern California, the roots are surf rock, pop and country.

Cracker, which was formed by David Lowery and Johnny Hickman in Redlands, California in 1990, is a band that has always had both the rock and the country of California in its musical DNA.

The band, which will headline a show on September 17 at The Queen (500 North Market St, Wilmington, Delaware, thequeenwilmington.com), has paid tribute to its dual roots with its latest album titled “Berkeley to Bakersfield” (429 Records).

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a harder-edged style of rock music emerged from the Bay area while Bakersfield has long been known for its own iconic country music that was popularized by Buck Owens and the Buckaroos and Merle Haggard in the 1960s and 1970s.

Lowery and Hickman have embraced both elements to some degree on nearly every one of their studio albums over the last two decades. When making “Berkeley to Bakersfield”, they decided against integrating these two genres on the same disc and opted instead to make a double CD that is broken down regionally.

“We spent one-and-a-half to two years working on the album,” said Hickman, during a phone interview last week from his home in Fort Collins, Colorado. “It wasn’t continual though. David has been going back to college to get his doctoral degree. When he was doing that, I’d be playing with my country band.

“When we were making the album, we decided to push country to one side and rock to the other and use different musicians for each. It was a lot of fun. On the ‘Berkeley’ disc, we recorded it with our original rhythm section — Davey Faragher on bass and Michael Urbano on drums.

“We had all the original chemistry back right away. The four of us got in a room and wrote the whole album within a week. I brought my box of riffs in. It was a fantastic microcosm of rock. Then, Davey wrote the lyrics. They’re the best he’s ever done. We recorded it at East Bay Recorders in Berkeley.”

Making the “Bakersfield” disc was a different story altogether.

“Bakersfield is where we found country music years ago,” said Hickman. “I had been playing some country music in Bakersfield. So, when we started Cracker, that was one of the elements.

“Songs like ‘Mr. Wrong’ and ‘Lonesome Johnny Blues’ have a country element. There’s always been a smattering of country in all our music. We play country a little like the way English bands play it — poking fun a little bit but always really loving it.

“We made ‘Bakersfield’ with guys from Athens, Georgia. We had a guy named ‘Pistol’ –that’s it…just ‘Pistol’ — who plays amazing pedal steel guitar and Carlton Owens on drums. Right from the very start, Davey and I always reserved the right to play with whatever musicians we wanted.”

No new Cracker album is on the horizon.

“Our last album was the double album in 2014,” said Hickman. “It did really well. That might be it – 10 records and ending on a high note.

“Davey and I have known each other since we were teenagers. With a varied (Cracker) line-up over the years, it’s been a great way to do it. Having different musicians in the band breathes new life into it.

“People ask me a lot how many different musicians have been in Cracker in the more than 20 years we’ve been around. We’ve never done an exact count by I would guesstimate that it’s over 100. It’s a very satisfying way to make music. We’re a big family.”

Cracker has learned to deal with the pandemic.

“We’re just trying to make a living and bring music to people as much as the pandemic will let us,” said Hickman.

“We have to weigh all the options. We’re trying to do as many shows as we can. It’s been difficult. We did around 20 shows in 2020 and most were outdoor shows.”

Cracker’s varied line-ups have allowed the band to produce a varied mix of music — rock, folk, blues, country, alt-rock and more.

“One of the things I’m proud of with Cracker, we’re always connected with all these genres — punk-rock, ska, all these sources,” said Hickman. “The song is the key to Cracker. We always focus on writing good songs.”

A lot of bands focus primarily on playing songs from a recently released album. Cracker is not one of them.

“We’re not a band that only wants to play new stuff,” said Hickman. “We try to pull something from each record. Our set list changes from week to week. We always play some of the radio songs, but the balance varies. We never have done a cookie-cutter show.”

Video link for Cracker — https://youtu.be/w5VEojXFtyI.

The show on September 17 at The Queen will start at 8 p.m. with tickets priced at $27.

The Two Johns

“The Two Johns” is a phrase that can mean many very different things.

In the Philadelphia music scene, it is the name of a duo featuring two veteran blues artists who have teamed up in a special project paying tribute to acoustic blues.

On September 18, The Two Johns will headline a show at Jamey’s House of Music (32 South Lansdowne Avenue, Lansdowne, 215-477-9985,www.jameyshouseofmusic.com).

The duo features John Colgan-Davis and Johnny Never.

East Coast bluesman Johnny Never has a mission to deliver pure, unadulterated vintage blues to those who already love the blues as well as those who have never heard it. Whether solo or with accompaniment, Never has energized audiences in Northern Maryland, Southeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey from small bars and restaurants to music halls such as the MAC Concert Series, The Mainstay, the Kennett Flash and Jamie’s House of Music.

Never, who has also performed in variety of music festivals, delivers his take on the blues as a solo performer as well as with a duo and a trio.

Often referred to by blues enthusiasts as “the real deal,” Never pays homage to, but does not mimic, the vast array of original bluesmen that gave birth to the genre more than a century ago. He is known for his covers of artists like Son House, Robert Johnson, and Charlie Patton.

His original compositions possess the qualities of the genuine article, delivered through deft finger-style guitar work and a voice that reeks of authenticity.

These qualities have earned him recognition by blues and folk music societies from Memphis to Philadelphia. In 2014, Johnny was a quarterfinalist in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis.

Colgan-Davis, harmonica and vocals, started playing the harmonica in local blues and folk clubs back in the late 1960s while he was still a high school student. He played and recorded with Philadelphia singer-guitarist Jesse Graves and played with Bonnie Raitt when she lived in Philadelphia in the early 1970s.

Through Raitt, he had the opportunity to meet and play with Mississippi Fred McDowell, Arthur Crudup, Buddy Guy, Skip James, Mississippi John Hurt, and others. He has also jammed with James Cotton, John Hammond, Charlie Musselwhite, John Lee Hooker, Bill Dicey, and Louisiana Red.

Colgan-Davis has toured nationally and has recorded two CDs — “Cold and Lonesome on a Train” and “Heroes and Hard Times.” A founding member of The Dukes of Destiny, John also taught social studies at Friends Select School in Philadelphia for 29 years and has written articles and supplements for The Philadelphia Inquirer on Blacks in the American West, Black Literature, the History of Black Philadelphia, and other topics.

For a long time, the two Philly area blues aces were aware of each other and their talents. A few years ago, their paths came together.

“About four years ago, Johnny and I were at the same gig and started talking,” said Colgan-Davis, during a phone interview Tuesday afternoon from his home in the Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia.

“We started hanging out together. Then, I sat in with him at a mini-festival but I can’t remember where. It was somewhere out in the country. He also had a bass player with him – Dave Young who since has moved to Colorado.”

In a phone interview Tuesday evening, Never said, “John is a great harmonica player. I’ve been playing blues for decades and had a parting of ways with my previous harmonica player. I called John up to see what would happen.”

Colgan-Davis said, “For the past few years, we’ve been playing as The Two Johns. Our first real show was at Hummingbird on Mars in Wilmington.

“I love playing acoustic again. There are things you can do as an acoustic harp player that you can’t do with a loud band.

“Johnny is a very good picker and a great slide player. He’s also a great Piedmont Blues player.”

Colgan-Davis and the harmonica have a long history together.

“I started acoustic harmonica when I was in high school at Philadelphia’s Central High School,” said Colgan-Davis. “Central High had a folk music club, and we had a budget big enough to being Skip James and Son House to play at our school.

“With The Two Johns, we play a couple songs I played in high school – including Son House’s ‘Death Letter Blues.’ We play a lot of Piedmont Blues, ragtime and some 1920s jazz ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’,’ a Fats Waller song. We do things I haven’t found a way to do with the Dukes of Destiny.”

Never said, “Music is about feel. When you play with somebody, you need to make sure you can connect with the feel. John’s playing works very well with old blues – especially Piedmont style. I play guitar almost exclusively acoustic. Early blues didn’t have electric guitar.

“I got attracted to early acoustic blues as a young person. It was a slow evolution. As a teenager, I heard recordings by Charley Patton and Son House. It hit me – and really stuck with me. When I was in my late 30s and early 40s, I really started working at it.”

With regard to The Two Johns, you have Never and Colgan-Davis.

With regard to Never, you actually have three Johns – Johnny Never which is the stage name for John Carleton and John Dorchester, the artist’s real name.

John Dorchester is a multi-discipline artist/creator who grew up in West Chester and attended West Chester Henderson before graduating from Westtown School. As an adolescent, he had a keen interest in landscape painting and filmmaking — studying painting with Nantucket artist, Warren Krebs, and filmmaking with Earl Fowler, whose famous brother, Jim, made nature films for Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom.”

“I’ve had a bunch of different jobs,” said Never/Carleton/Dorchester. “I started as an AFA painter and then got into commercial filmmaking from 1993-2014. Now, I’m back to being a fine artist working in oils”

He is also back to being a fine musician who has teamed with Colgan-Davis to keep early acoustic blues alive.

Video link for The Two Johns — https://youtu.be/ny2EmfXYMR0.

The show on September 18 at Jamey’s will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance and $18 at the door.

Other upcoming shows at Jamey’s are Liz & Peter on September 16, Carolyn Hester with daughters Amy and Karla Blume on September 17 and Kara Grainger on September 19.

John Ford Coley

There will be another John performing in the area this weekend – John Ford Coley on September 17 at the Parx Casino (2999 Street Road, Bensalem, www.parxcasino.com).

There have been many famous duos in rock music over the years such as Ashford & Simpson, Sam and Dave, Richard and Linda Thompson, Fripp & Eno, Sonny and Cher, Ike and Tina Turner. Some of them get back together years after they have separated. Others will never be able to reconnect because of the death of one of the members.

Some of the well-known have even formed duos with other truncated-by-death duos such as Peter and Jeremy – the fusion of Jeremy Clyde from Chad & Jeremy and Peter Asher, whose partner in Peter and Gordon (Gordon Waller) passed away in 2009.

Then there is England Dan & John Ford Coley.

Dan Seals (England Dan) and Coley, who went to high school together in Dallas, Texas, formed their musical duo in the early 1970s and released their debut album “England Dan & John Ford Coley” in 1971.

Over the next decade, they had three Number One hits – “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight,” “We’ll Never Have to Say Goodbye Again” and “Love Is the Answer.”

The duo split in 1980 when Seals decided to pursue a career in country music, where he found success throughout the 1980s, scoring hits with “Meet Me in Montana” (with Marie Osmond) and “Bop.”

Any chance of a reunion down the road evaporated when Seals died in March 2009 following treatment for mantle cell lymphoma.

After the duo disbanded, Coley began an acting career and made several television and film appearances in the 1980s. He returned to an active touring schedule in the 1990s, along with serving as co-producer for artists such as Eddie Money.

Coley has also written his autobiography, “Backstage Pass,” which tells fascinating tales of his many years in the music business. He still undertakes a busy tour schedule — performing to devoted audiences worldwide.

“I play around 50 shows a year,” said Coley, during a phone interview last week from his home in Nashville, Tennessee. “I still enjoy travelling and seeing places.”

Coley’s most recent album is “Eclectic.” It was released in 2016 so this is hardly an album support tour for the disc.

“I made my last album about two years ago,” said Coley, who has more than a dozen albums on his musical resume. “It’s just me. I had all these songs. People have the impression that if you’re not on the radio, you’re not working. That’s not true at all.

“Some of the songs on it were written in 1983 and some are current. The album is called ‘Eclectic.’ I cut it with a friend of mine – producer Tom Wurth. It has a wide variety of styles.

“I’ve always been trained in a lot of different styles – from folk to show…from opera to country. This album has classical, pop, folk, jazz and rock. The variety is there because it’s just what I do. I’m not interested with getting on the radio.”

The show at the Parx Casino will also feature Ambrosia and Peter Beckett.

“We’ve all been playing together for a while,” said Ford Coley. “We all play on our own and then we play together. I do about four or five songs.

“I’m doing this because I enjoy playing for people. I learned a long time ago that people don’t relate to songs they don’t know. So, I play England Dan & John Ford Coley songs. I’ll always play ‘Love Is the Answer,’ ‘Gone Too Far’ and ‘I’d Really Love to See You Tonight.’ People come to the show to go down Memory Lane.”

Video link for John Ford Coley – https://youtu.be/ROyZcZ0-sns.

The show at Parx Casino will start at 8 p.m. Ticket prices range from $20-$60.

The upcoming week’s schedule at Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center (226 North High Street, West Chester, uptownwestchester.org) includes Gina Roche Quartet on September 16, Kim Richey on September 17, “Let’s Hang On — America’s #1 Frankie Valli Tribute Show” on September 18 and Watkins Family Hour on September 22.

Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) will host David Grier with Mark Unruh on September 17 and The Sweet Remains on September 18.

The Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com) is presenting Lotus on September 16, Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears on September 17 and Hop Along on September 18.

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