*On practically any night in Los Angeles, there are benefit galas that bring out the stars of television, film, and music, as well as other movers and shakers in the City of Angels. While such galas are meant to elevate the awareness and raise funds for respective causes, sometimes, a special gala is held that also generates pure magic and excitement, all rooted in the caliber of entertainment, temperament of the audience, and ambiance of the venue.
Such a magical night of excitement was held recently, when award-winning pianist Kris Bowers headlined a benefit concert called, “Jazz for Good.” Held at Colburn School’s Zipper Hall in Los Angeles, close to 500 people filled the unique performing arts venue to witness the jazz offerings of Bowers and his band.
Joining Bowers on stage was actress and singer Sheryl Lee Ralph, who also served as the event’s honorary co-chair. A six-member choir from Congregational Church of Christian Fellowship turned in an awesome performance that sounded more like an ensemble of 20.
“When Sheryl and Kris connected on stage, it was just magical,” said retired bank executive, Clifton Johnson, who organized and chaired the benefit concert. “When you hear Sheryl, who is great in her own right as a singer, together with an award-winning pianist such as Kris, it was exciting. It was just a wonderful evening for everyone.”
Other honorary event co-chairs and honorees included Herbie Hancock, Chaka Khan, Virgil Roberts, Christopher Reynolds, Troy C. Dawson, Don Buford, Kawanna Brown, Kevin McDowell, LA Doris McClaney, Los Angeles Commissioners Mike Davis and Joel F. Jacinto, Tavio Hobson, Mirion Bowers and Grover McKean. Serving as MC was EUR’s Lee Bailey, known throughout the entertainment industry as “The Voice.”
According to Johnson, all proceeds from “Jazz for Good” went to help advance the work and services offered at the Roy W. Roberts Watts Willowbrook Boys and Girls Club and Congregational Church of Christian Fellowship, pastored by Rev. James K. McKnight. Collectively, the two entities have rendered more than 130 years of service to Los Angeles communities.
Johnson, a member of Congregational Church, said that he is appreciative to Bowers, an accomplished keyboardist and film score composer, for giving freely of his time and talents to make the benefit successful.
“He is a very gracious and talented young man, who grew up in Los Angeles,” said Johnson. “When I met him, and we talked, he wanted to do something to give back to the community that had helped him succeed. He looked at his schedule, gave us a date, and my team and I put it together.”
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Bowers gained international attention in 2011, when he won the coveted Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition, held at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. He subsequently recorded with hip-hop legends Jay-Z and Kanye West on the album “Watch the Throne.” In 2014, his album “Heroes + Misfits” won “Best New Jazz Album” at the Jazz Japan Awards.
Bailey admitted that when asked to serve as the concert’s MC, he didn’t know what to expect.
“To be perfectly honest, I was skeptical, because I didn’t have a clue,” Bailey said. “I don’t think anyone knew that it was going to turn out as well as it did. But it turned out to be something really, really special. It was a blessing for me to be a part of it.”
While the benefit is over, Johnson told Bailey during a post-event interview that people are still buzzing and in awe at how magical and exciting the night was. Bailey asked Johnson if the benefit concert would become an annual fundraiser.
“Well, Lee, if you would be our Master of Ceremonies and help us with the outreach,” Johnson replied with a laugh. “You and I go back a long way with the Watts Willowbrook Boys and Girls Club. I look back at our history and what you did for the club back in the day, 35-plus years ago; just bringing out all of the artists and celebrating the kids during the Christmas holiday. I will never forget that, and they won’t either.”
Johnson continued, “Maybe we can make it an annual event,” said Johnson, who expressed gratitude to his wife, Maudie and daughters Marcia and Stephanie, for their help in coordinating the concert. “But, if I did it again, it would be only to benefit the same two organizations: Roy W. Roberts Watts Willowbrook Boys and Girls Club and Congregational Church of Christian Fellowship.”
Bailey responded to Johnson:
“It was a great beginning. The bottom line is that you created magic. You gave people something that they had never experienced before. And those same people will be back, and through word-of-mouth (and) won’t be saying anything but good things about this event. The event was something that you would see on a television network. It was like a work of art created right there!”
For more information about the Roy W. Roberts Watts Willowbrook Boys and Girls Club, log on to www.wwbgclub.org. For additional information on Congregational Church of Christian Fellowship, go to www.christianfellowshipla.org. To learn more about Kris Bowers, log on to www.krisbowers.com. Hit Sheryl Lee Ralph up on Twitter: @thesherylralph.
Here’s our raw, unedited interview backstage with Sheryl and Kris after the concert: