By Marilyn Delk
When Darke County Center for the Arts presents Shaun Johnson and his Big Band Experience at Henry St. Clair Memorial Hall in Greenville this Saturday night, the organization will be fulfilling the expectations of music lovers from many eras and genres. The band’s sound, while based on music beloved by generations past, centers on innovation, ensuring that each performance is a unique, fresh experience appealing to fans of Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, and Michael Buble as well as followers of Brian Setzer, the Mavericks and Citizen Cope. Johnson’s website tells us he “indelibly stamps vocal jazz and swing with a contemporary punch,” and his high energy shows are filled with the comfortably familiar as well as the delightfully surprising, including original songs as well as some reimagined and ingeniously appealing numbers like the ”Spiderman Theme.”
Shaun Johnson, an Emmy- and Grammy-Award winning singer/songwriter, was born in the small town of St. Joseph, Iowa; one of his earliest memories is of performing at state fair talent shows singing Sonny and Cher songs a cappella with his sister while neither of them were quite tall enough to reach the microphone. He began his professional career with nationally known vocal group Tonic Sol-fa, and is still an active member of the group which has sold nearly two million albums Then in 2016, the energetic entrepreneur put together a group featuring some of the best instrumentalists and arrangers in the Midwest.
Perhaps the smallest big band ever, the Big Band Experience includes saxophonist Aaron Moe, an award-winning music educator who has performed with Wynton Marsalis and Earth Wind and Fire, and pianist Theo Brown, whose eclectic resume cites his work as a poet, a spoken word artist, and a singer/songwriter who regularly performs in diverse jazz and blues ensembles as well as with the Minnesota Opera Company. That diversity is matched by drummer David Slanach, whose credits include playing with Doc Severinsen, Bonnie Raitt, Robert Goulet, New Kids on the Block, and the Minnesota Orchestra.
Trombonist Dave Stamps has participated in the famed Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, while Ronny Loew who plays the tenor sax also gained worldwide touring experience after graduating from Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music. Sought-after studio musician and in-demand solo artist Jeff Carver rounds out the ensemble, playing trumpet and flugelhorn.
In July 2019, Shaun Johnson and his Big Band Experience released their first album, Capitol, and almost instantly found themselves ahead of Tony Bennett and a little behind Willie Nelson on Billboard’s Top Five list. Their just-released new album, Her, features original songs paying homage to the women in Shaun’s life, plus “Love Me Tender,” one of his wife’s favorites. The artist explains that he is surrounded by influential women; in addition to his wife Mary Ann and their three young daughters, he recognizes and honors his mother, her three sisters, his two sisters, and his business partner—all of whom enrich his life and inspire his work in diverse ways.
Highlights of the album include “All Because of You,” an attempt to say what Shaun’s wife means to him; the composer explains that he has tried many times to achieve that goal in a three-minute song, but finds it an impossible task. However, he goes on to say, “This is the first time I didn’t delete the attempt.” “Multiplied By Two,” a delightful homage to the work of the Andrews Sisters and Bing Crosby, is “dedicated to the idea that one person multiplied by another can seem so much greater than the sum of its parts.” Another piece, “Losing You” was written following a conversation with his sister who recently lost her beloved husband. The diverse nature of his songwriting is sourced in relatable real life situations, making his work easily accessible to all who listen.
Sean Johnson and the Big Band Experience will provide a night to remember with music that evokes emotion, soothes souls and energizes spirits; the show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets will be available at the door, and cost $30 ($15 for students), or contact DCCA at 937-547-0908 or www.DarkeCountyArts.org.
Marilyn Delk is the former executive director of the Darke County Center for the Arts and can be reached at [email protected] Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.