HIGH HOPES is a non-profit charitable organization that helps brain-injured adults often recover from traumatic injuries that leave them unable to talk or walk. This was the 19th Annual Eric Marienthal and Friends Benefit Concert held in an outdoor amphitheater setting overlooking picturesque Newport Bay as the sun set behind the stage.
The evening began in a small gazebo area of the hotel with a VIP catered dinner and live band led by Ron Kobayashi, featuring singer Mary Desmond, daughter of Mark Desmond who is the Founder and creator of the organization. Backstage360 magazine was excited about being invited to cover this notable event.
We interviewed Mr. Desmond, who told us he had been a high-school swimming coach, which is how he met long-time friend Eric Marienthal the gifted Two-Time Grammy Award winning saxophone player and concert leader. We also interviewed David Benoit jazz pianist and guest solo artist.
When the main concert was about to begin the VIP’s were ushered along pathways over to the amphitheater, which had many amazing silent auction items on display, as well as hot and cold hors d’oeuvres and bar kiosk. It was well attended with every seat filled and many mingling in the aisles. It was the perfect evening out. Eric kicked off the concert with an outstanding band line up consisting of the top jazz and jazz-fusion musicians in southern California. Each artist has performed, recorded, toured and collaborated with very well known and loved artists. On piano and keys Mitch Forman, Nathaniel Kearney Jr. on bass, Joel Taylor on drums, Adam Hawley guitar, and Ramon Yslas on percussion. Eric was playing selections from his vast 14 CD solo repertoire while making his signature wailing stance as he fluidly riffed on his alto sax backed by a solid perfect sound coming from the band. It takes great ears and a lot of skill to produce such a balanced fine spectrum of instruments in an outdoor setting, thanks to Dennis Moody the sound engineer.
“Afrique” was a tune from an older album that featured Yslas on percussion as he shared solos with drummer Taylor and keyboardist Mitch used his synth and Rhodes sounds to create an exotic atmosphere. As Eric pulled out another older tune he explained and joked about the strange name “Seafood to Go” saying “what do you name an instrumental song?” It had a 70’s show theme sound with the tasty licks of guitarist Hawley, funky kicking bass-lines from Kearney and dueling sax and lead guitar solos as they played while they walked up the aisle much to the delight of the audience. As the band took a break a video was played showing us around the High Hopes facilities and their patients who spoke of their progress, showing us the $50,000 machines that helped in their successes.
Then we saw and heard a testimony of miracles from a man who wheeled himself out onto the stage who previously couldn’t even hold weight on his legs before he went to High Hopes, and now he can walk. He told the audience about a new machine they need that costs $60,000. Enter the auctioneer, who did a very professional and entertaining job of raising lots of money with the Live Auction items.
Special guest musicians joined the band onstage beginning with composer producer pianist David Benoit. He played a lively version of Rondo alla Turk with the band and performed his solo piece Kate’s Song. Next Oleta Adams, who traveled all the way from Kansas City, came out to sing and play piano, with her husband Joe Cushon backing her on drums. Oleta’s soulful voice, playing and countenance was a joyful addition not only to the band but highlighted a fantastic evening.
Eric let us know that all the musicians who played for the charity did it out of the goodness of their hearts. The audience never stopped grooving even as the sun finished setting on the harbor.
Alicia Previn / BackStage360
Smooth Jazz Concert July 9th 2017 Hyatt Regency Newport Beach
INTERVIEWS WITH : Eric Marienthal, David Benoit & Mark Desmond