One might think that Johnny Mathis received an extended and spontaneous standing ovation simply for setting foot on the stage at Wolf Trap on Friday night, but this would not be true. You see, with a career spanning more than fifty six years, and fans around the world numbering in the millions, when Johnny shows up, it’s not really a concert anymore. It’s a lovefest, and at this point in time this is just how people greet him.
The rules of engagement between Johnny and his audiences are spelled out in the lyrics of the song “When I Fall In Love,” with which his concert began. When I give my heart, it will be forever, or I’ll never give my heart. And the moment I can feel that you feel that way too, is when I’ll fall in love with you. What’s not to understand?
With commitment clearly established, Johnny introduced a beautiful medley of Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini hits that included “Two for the Road,” “Charade,” “The Days of Wine and Roses,” and “Moon River.” There he was, impeccably dressed as always and forever … perfect hair, a smile and a face that never quit, that always polite, vulnerable, and charismatic personality that endears him to all of the world … and all of it wrapped around a voice that just might be the reason why romantic ballads exist.
Backed by a tight and polished rhythm section that included his longtime composer and conductor, the multi-talented Scott Lavender, magical guitarist Gil Reigers, Rick Shaw on bass, and Joe Lizama on drums, and backed by an orchestra of strings and horn musicians that would be the envy of any great singer, Johnny Mathis earned each and every one of the nine standing ovations that came his way over the course of the evening.
Johnny Mathis invented the concept of “Greatest Hits” recordings. Anybody who attends one of his concerts or clicks on the video clips posted on his website appreciates the fact that the list of his personal hits amounts to a living and growing history of many of the greatest ballads ever written and pays tribute to a group of composers and lyricists who represent the very best of their best, ever. “Chances Are,” “It’s Not For Me To Say,” “A Certain Smile,” “Let It Be Me,” “Shenandoah,” “Gina,” and the list goes on.
Sharing the bill with Johnny on Friday night was a very likeable and funny comedian by the name of Brad Upton, who performed after Johnny’s opening set. Upton finds fun and humor in everyday family life, and his jokes are equally appealing to audiences of all ages, from teenagers to senior citizens. His clean act and honest delivery are refreshing, and a perfect complement to Johnny Mathis, who has been a class act throughout his entire career.
After a well-deserved break that provided time to rest and to change into another of his great fitting suits, Johnny opened his second set with “Pure Imagination,” “Baubles, Bangles, and Beads” “Stranger in Paradise,” and “Secret Love.” The arrangements were the stuff singers dream of, and Johnny made the most of every one of them. Following, came a tribute set featuring the music of Linda Creed and Thom Bell, including “Stop, Look, Listen, “You Make Me Feel Brand New.”
And then came “Misty.” All I can say is that Johnny Mathis can sing any note he decides to sing, even if he doubts that this might be the case. Oh, Johnny….
It was a wonderful treat for the audience when Johnny brought his good friend Gil Reigers to the front of the stage for a set featuring Johnny backed at times only by the hauntingly beautiful music that Reigers pulls from his guitar. “99 Miles” and “The Twelfth of Never” had people simply mesmerized.
Towards the end of the evening, Johnny treated the audience to some wonderful Brazilian music, a genre that has always been dear to his heart. He has a great feel for Latin rhythms, and it was fun to see him moving and singing in this set with such obvious personal joy.
The concert closed with “You’ll Never Know,” and just as with the song he chose to open his unforgettable and amazing concert, his performance left nothing to misunderstand.
Few people ever get the opportunity to sing with the orchestras that are a given in a Johnny Mathis concert. Johnny sings the best music and he performs with the best musicians in the business. Nobody is more appreciative of this than Johnny Mathis. This said, it is wonderful to see an artist standing on the stage whose talent has never required any special effects or cover. He’s the real thing, and this is much more unique than many realize.
Inside, when nobody is looking, all artists (even those who have twice been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame) want to know how long the ride will last. John, just in case you’re wondering … it’s going to be until the twelfth of never, and that’s a long, long time.
To view upcoming events at Wolf Trap, check out their calendar.
After Note (July 24):
Johnny Mathis was kind enough to call me today. As we spoke, he was busy cooking a meal for his brother, and word has it that he is one amazing cook.
I asked Johnny if he ever finds himself in disbelief when he looks back and thinks about the fact that he has been able to sing and work with any particular great musician. He told me that there are too many to count. He also shared that he was very fortunate to grow up in the San Francisco area, where his father frequently took him to jazz clubs. Because he was in a lower key environment than would have been the case in a fast paced city such as New York, that many, many wonderful artists took him under wing and befriended and mentored him. Among the many he will always cherish are Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, and Lena Horne.
In terms of upcoming projects, Johnny shared that his next project is of a personal nature – hip replacement surgery. Unfortunately, he’ll be out of commission for a few months, but he’ll be back performing by the end of October. In the meantime, he plans to work on a new project focused on Brazilian music.
Here’s wishing Johnny a very speedy recovery, with hope that he will be back on the golf course and singing his way around the world very, very soon. What a great guy!