An Absolutely Amazing Night of Smooth Vocals, Funk, and All That Jazz at The Woodland (RECAP) — Jersey Indie
By Gregory Burrus | Posted Tuesday, April 26, 2022
On Saturday, April 23rd the Vibe in the air was nothing less than very exciting for Rich Engel’s Smooth Jazz New Jersey event, as all of us were expecting an event that was at least as great as prior Smooth Jazz performances.
Well, this production of Smooth Vocals Funk and Jazz was absolutely amazing as folks came out and every seat in this beautiful Georgian Revival-style mansion called The Woodland was sold out.
The opening event was hot right out the gate. The first performance featured classical flautist-turned-Jazz-flutist Alexander Zonjic. Zonjic is a 15-time Detroit Music Awards winner with deep and multi-faceted ties to the city of Detroit. This “flute guy from Canada” is also a DJ and is the owner of a veritable cottage industry as the artistic director and producer of more than 10 annual festival events in the region and philanthropist under the umbrella of his Hi-Falutin Music. His performance was impeccable.
Alexander brought with him a swinging band that provided the funk big time, consisting of the widely renowned and incredible pianist James Lloyd, co-founder and member of the famed Pieces of a Dream, Kris Kurzawa on guitar, who has become one of the Detroit area’s most in-demand guitarists since the early 2000’s, drummer Jeff Canady whose captivating performance was creating more fans all night with each drumbeat, and Detroit bassist Mike Harrington who has toured with Brian Culberson, The Spinners, KEM, Jeff Lorber, Kirk Whalum, Angela Bofill, etc., and tonight they introduced Electric Violinist Phenomenon Evan Garr who currently tours with Stanley Clarke and Jean Luc Ponty.
The Woodland was alive and swaying for sure as folks were singing, dancing and doing the Detroit Sway. Comments from a few attendees noted Alexander’s great stage presence and what a great bandleader he was. Together, it was one exciting moving performance and they laid it all out on the stage. The band started swinging hard and he immediately drew everyone in and, of course, he had folks up and dancing the Detroit Shuffle in the front, on the sides and in the back.
Next up was Maysa Leak, who according to her bio “is the kind of singer who takes hold of a song and enraptures her audience in the palm of her hands, as she delivers lyrics, phrases, melodies and harmonies in a way that only she can.” Blessed with an instantly identifiable honey-toned mezzo-soprano and an undeniably brilliant and magnetic stage presence, Maysa’s alluring vocals, candor, honesty, humor and purity as an artist make her a rarity in this business” ( maysa.com)
Well, this Baltimore native is the recipient of many awards for her work, including Soul Train’s first Centric Award in 2009, and her first Grammy nomination for Best Traditional R&B Performance and has previously collaborated with everyone from Stevie Wonder to Incognito, Angela Bofill, Will Downing and Jonathan Butler, Phil Perry and more. Maysa was a former “Incognito” lead vocalist, a Grammy Nominee, ranks #2 on the UK R&B charts and tonight the awesome band she performed with at The Woodland included Angela Phillips — assistant vocals, Damon Bennett — music director/ keys, Charles Baldwin — bass, Tim Hudson — drums, and Richard Tucker — guitar.
Clearly, Maysa and her band came to deliver as she continued the heat, laid down by the opening act, and quickly got folks into the mood. The crowd was hooked from the first song to the last. Throughout the night, as mentioned, earlier her honesty and humor was evident as she wrapped into her musical selections stories about her son, Jazz, her travels as an artist, and life in general. She sang a host of her originals from recently released albums along with a number of widely popular songs taking us way back in time. The medley of ’70s ’80s hits went over big time as folks swayed in their seats, started singing along, and next thing you know the place came alive as people jumped up and started singing and dancing and enjoying the beat. The night was on fire all night long as people truly enjoyed her performance.
As I wandered around the event in my Arts and Entertainment reporter role, I encountered folks excitedly talking about the night, and one person said to me “Maysa put on a vocal show extraordinaire as she covered smooth jazz, R&B and funk so easily and effortlessly.” Another patron told me he traveled 3 and half hours just for this show because “Maysa is absolutely phenomenal and was happy to drive back to Boston tonight as Maysa did not disappoint at all.” Closer to home, a local resident that I invited said “Wow, this is great to have this fantastic quality of music so close to home. I will be back.” Well, this is nice to know because in communicating with Maysa after the show Maysa said, “I loved performing in such a quaint, classy, beautiful town. I really would love to live in Maplewood. The audience was just fantastic, and I hope to come back soon!” Who knows, hopefully she does come back soon.
Talk about putting a town on the map. Continued sold-out standing-room-only Smooth Jazz live music performances like this at The Woodland Mansion in Maplewood, NJ is definitely the way to do it. The Woodland has this very serene environment with great parking that makes it an excellent place to listen to music of any type with family, friends, and those who want to enjoy the community. Overall, it was clear almost 50 percent of the audience was not from local towns, as folks came in from Long Island, South Jersey, Philly, and even Detroit.
And it was of course very appropriate to see the newly elected Mayor Dean Dafis tell the audience, you don’t just go home when the show is over but instead walk around the corner, stop in town and enjoy drinks and dinner at a local restaurant and have a great time. Having had some experience with live music events, I can tell you these events will clearly go a long way into turning Maplewood/South Orange into a Live Music Destination.