Jeff Golub at the Greater Hartford Jazz Festival

A Performance Fit For "Three Kings"

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Marjorie Savoie

Jeff Golub at Greater Hartford Festival of Jazz, Photo by Marjorie Savoie

This review is an emotional one for me. I have seen Jeff Golub perform many times, but this was the first time I have seen him perform since he lost his eyesight. Please notice what I said, and what I did not say. Jeff Golub has lost his sight, but he most definitely has not lost his vision.

The first few moments after his arrival on the stage were an effort on Golub’s part to put his audience at ease. Imagine that. This great man has lost his sight, but his main concern was making his audience feel comfortable. Few people on the planet have such an unselfish spirit. He immediately addressed any questions there may have been about, “the elephant in the room”, confirming the fact that he had lost his sight, and then jokingly saying, “So, if any of you see it running around out there, would you please let me know, because this is kind of a drag.” He brought up the subject in a lighthearted way, but he did not make light of what he has been going through, and his honesty made his performance feel more personal, like being in the presence of a good friend.

In his very next breath, Golub reassured his audience that his blindness has not affected his playing, and having witnessed the performance the followed, I can assure readers that he is absolutely right. His playing was as excellent, if not better than any of his performances I have seen in the past.

Golub opened with “Dangerous Curves” which was the title track of his year 2000 release, and is always a crowd pleaser. This tune is positive and upbeat, and really showcases his technique, power, and presence on stage. He also provided ample opportunity for members of his team to shine, on this tune and throughout the show. His touring band is comprised of three outstanding instrumentalists; Matt King on keys, Josh Dion on drums and vocals, and Ron Jenkins on bass.

Next, Golub introduced songs from his latest CD, “Three Kings”, which is a tribute to BB King, Freddie King, and Albert King. During his introduction of, “Three Kings,” Golub also graciously offered a tip of the hat to “another King”, highly praising the skill of his keyboardist, Matt King. These accolades were certainly earned in the performance that followed.

As many fans are already aware, and as Golub has shared in newsletters on his website (www.jeffgolub.com), it was during the recording of this latest CD, in February of 2011 that he began to have difficulty with his sight. After losing sight in his right eye as a result of a collapse of the optic nerve, he soon began losing sight in the left as well.

Coincidentally, one of the musicians he was working with at the time was keyboardist Henry Butler, who is also blind. Butler has been able help him learn to navigate through life without his eyesight.

The first tune Golub and his band played from the “Three Kings” project was a blues groove entitled, “Sidetracked”, which was originally recorded by Freddie King. Golub’s version was bolder and grittier than the original, and I loved it!

Next was a tune entitled, “Help the Poor,” originally recorded by B.B. King. Golub nailed King’s style, while also using effects to give it a fresh feel. Clean and precise, with a powerful use of dynamics, his soloing cut straight to the heart. This tune also featured a vocal performance by Golub’s drummer, Josh Dion, from Storrs, CT, who demonstrated an effective use of vocal inflections, and had a nice edge to his voice that made for an intriguing delivery. The interaction between Golub’s guitar and Dion’s voice was very intuitive, and it was evident that the loss of his vision has not impaired his connection with members his team.

At this point in his show, Golub took a moment to introduce his guide dog, Luke. He expressed profound appreciation for this faithful companion, who helps him navigate his way through a world of many obstacles, further evidencing the attitude of gratitude which has enabled him to rise above adversity.

Following this special introduction was Golub’s soulful rendition of, “Freddie’s Midnight Dream”, by Freddie King. It should be noted that King originally began recording under a slightly different spelling of his first name, which is Freddy. Readers who are interested in hearing the original recording can find it on a compilation disc, entitled, “Just Pickin’” by Freddy King. Golub’s performance of this tune was deeply emotional and riveting, accentuated by arpeggiated keys and B3 sounds by Matt King. This tune was followed by Freddie King’s, “I’m Tore Down”, which featured another great vocal performance by Josh Dion.

Then the show really kicked into high gear, with a tune made famous by the Average White Band, called, “Pick up the Pieces”. The audience immediately recognized this tune, and they went absolutely nuts! The energy between Golub and his audience continued to build, as they seemed to feed off of one another.

Rarely does an audience manage to work 3 solos out of an artist, but this crowd was not willing to let Jeff Golub leave until they had heard all that he was willing to give. His first encore was, “Let the Good Times Roll”, with Josh Dion on vocals, giving a personal twist to the well known lyrics; “Hey tell everybody Jeff’s in town, he’s got a dollar and quarter, just rarin’ to clown!” Ron Jenkins also cranked out some excellent bass work on this tune.

The second encore was a tune that he wrote in the tradition of Freddie King, entitled (as Golub himself pointed out, ironically), “In Plain Sight”. This tune is a lot of fun; very sassy and rollicking, with a really solid melodic hook, and Golub gave it lots of attitude! The groove makes an interesting transition to more of a swing feel at the bridge, and then comes back to the original hook; very engaging!

Golub really made the audience work for his third encore, and it wasn’t clear if he would stay, but people just kept on screaming until he finally relented and performed B.B. King’s, “Every day I Have The Blues”. The band was really cruisin’ on this tune, with Golub’s guitar seeming to soar effortlessly above the groove. It was the crowning finish to a performance fit for “Three Kings”!

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Marjorie Savoie