As pedestrians stroll up and down Van Brunt St. in Englewood, NJ on this gorgeous June 15, 2017 evening, many young parents and their children stop to enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of a carnival directly across the street from the venerable BergenPAC theater.
Along with vendors selling popcorn, cotton candy, and ice cream, these families experience pre-recorded music playing from a small roller coaster adjacent to several other attractions including an oversized swing, a fun house, and a ride resembling a large spinning wheel.
Across the street, music lovers of a different sort are making their way inside the BergenPAC lobby — a few in their 20s and 30s, but the vast majority in their 40s, 50s, 60s, and possibly beyond.
They’re all here at this stellar New Jersey performing arts venue to see the classic jazz-rock band, Blood, Sweat & Tears perform — among other things — their version of “Spinning Wheel,” live and in concert.
It’s been exactly 50 years ago since drummer/music producer Bobby Colomby and several of his musical friends started the band, Blood, Sweat & Tears — one of the first groups to successfully blend the musical styles of rock and jazz.
The idea for Blood, Sweat & Tears was originally conceived by keyboardist Al Kooper in 1967. Kooper had been toying with the notion of forming an electric rock band that would include horns and use jazz as the basis for their sound, just as groups like The Buckinghams and the Maynard Ferguson Orchestra had recently begun to do.
In New York City, Kooper found three musicians interested in working with him on his musical experiment — drummer Bobby Colomby, bassist Jim Fielder, and guitarist Steve Katz, in addition to a top-flight horn section including jazz trumpeter Randy Brecker.
The new group signed to Columbia Records, and the name “Blood, Sweat & Tears” reportedly came to Kooper after a performance at NYC’s Cafe au Go Go, where a cut on his hand left Kooper’s organ keyboard covered in blood.
In 1968, BS&T released their debut LP, Child is Father to the Man. In 1969, with the addition of Canadian vocalist David Clayton-Thomas, the group released its 1969 self-titled album, Blood, Sweat & Tears. The album’s first single, “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” catapulted to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and also lifted the album to the top of the Album chart.
More hits like “Spinning Wheel” followed, and the rest is history. Over the next half-century, Blood, Sweat & Tears went on to become one of the most popular touring acts of all time.
But does the group still contain any of its original members?
“Not a chance,” recently stated Colomby, who last performed with BS&T in 1976, but still oversees the musical direction of the group.
“I think of this band like baseball’s Yankees,” explains Colomby. “When you’re at a Yankee game you’re not going to see Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, or Lou Gehrig. What you do come to expect is a team of top-notch players upholding a tradition of winning… it is what people expect from BS&T as well… brilliant musicians, singers, songs, and arrangements.”
All told, it’s estimated there have been over 140 members of Blood, Sweat & Tears!
The current line-up of the band includes such talented musicians as Glen McClelland on keyboards, Dillon Kondor on guitar, Ric Fierabracci on bass, Dylan Elise on drums, Jonathan Powell on trumpet, Brad Mason on trumpet, Ken Gioffre on sax and flute, and Ozzie Melendez on trombone.
In addition, on vocals, Blood, Sweat & Tears currently features a southern rock singer with a great stage presence whom audiences everywhere recognize from his appearances on TV’s American Idol — Bo Bice.
According to Colomby, “During the early years of… American Idol, I received many phone calls from friends telling me to check out singer Bo Bice, saying that his was a fresh voice and that he did a masterful job singing ‘Spinning Wheel.’”
“Many of my more musically knowledgable buddies also suggested that I ask Bo to join the band. I’m pleased to say that’s exactly what happened and by the reaction of audiences worldwide, it was a great match.”
Judging by the reaction of the fans here at BergenPAC, they heartily agree!
As Blood, Sweat & Tears hits the stage running with a powerhouse version of their Blood, Sweat & Tears album cut, “More and More,” the audience cheers, particularly when they first hear the resonating voice of the group’s lead vocalist and frontman, Bo Bice!
Looking cool in his shades and jeans, Bice’s bluesy voice is in top form as he sings, “That’s why my love for you/Keeps on growin’/More and more/All the time.”
Following avid applause, Bo welcomes the crowd in his down-home Southern accent saying, “Good evening, Englewood! We are Blood, Sweat & Tears, and I’m Bo Bice.”
At this point, he and the band launch into the group’s 1970 hit, “Lucretia McEvil,” — it’s jazzy and rockin’ vibe featuring trumpeters Brad Mason and Jonathan Powell trading riffs as the rhythm section percolates below.
Following a dynamic rendition of their Child is the Father to the Man cut, “I Can’t Quit Her,” Bo tells the audience, “I’m blessed to have been able to do what I do now for 25 years, but my biggest thrill is to stand on the stage with these musicians — my brothers.”
Moving on to a powerful version of “Go Down Gamblin’,” Bo’s bluesy lead vocal shines, the horn parts punctuating the rhythm section’s driving beat. Dillon Kondor is featured on a psychedelic electric guitar solo as Bo twirls his microphone stand in the air to the audience’s delight.
“You guys are a great crowd and you have such a beautiful theater here,” announces Bice. “Please give it up for everyone at BergenPAC!”
Following appreciative applause, Bice continues, “It’s a lot of fun to do what we do for a living,” explaining how he and the band recently returned from a world tour with concerts in Australia and Hawaii.
Receiving accolades from audiences wherever they’ve played, Bice explains, “The catalog of music is the star of this show, so you can hoot and holler if you like — that’s what we want you to do.”
Here, BS&T launches into their rendition of their 1970 Top 20 hit, “Hi De Ho,” featuring it’s swing-struttin’ vibe, an organ solo by Glenn McClelland, and the world-class BS&T horn section.
Heads nod to the beat as audience members mouth the words and respond with hearty cheers at the end.
“You got me sweatin’ so much my wig’s startin’ to move around,” jokes Bice. “And these sunglasses?” he adds. “They’re prescription to keep me from fallin’ off the stage.”
Complimenting the talented cadre of musicians with whom he gets to work every night, Bice tells the audience, “This band’s been around for five decades.”
At this point, he introduces one of many highlight numbers of the evening— a high-energy jazz-rock fusion instrumental piece entitled “Surreptitious.”
Featuring Brad Mason on his Chuck Mangione-like flugelhorn and a tenor solo by Ken Gioffre which echoes the style of David Sanborn — the two horn players face each other as they seamlessly perform “in the pocket” on melody lines that evoke the spirit of a 1950’s-era Dizzy Gillespie/Charlie Parker bebop performance.
The back-up musicians are totally in the groove, too, providing rock-solid support from BS&T’s super-tight and funky rhythm section.
Heads nod, and audience members cheer at the end of the tune, after which Bice responds by saying, “I told you these guys were some bad Mama Jamas!”
“We do what we do because we are fans of the music just as you are,” adds Bice.
With this, he and the band perform a rhythmic rendition of another Child is Father to the Man cut, “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know,” which featuring a bluesy electric guitar solo by Dillon Kondor.
As Bo struts around the stage, he sings with his heart and soul, “I love you baby, more than you’ll ever know/More than you’ll ever know.” Couples can be seen nodding their heads to the the music, arms around each other, enjoying this soulful R&B love song.
“On this next one,” announces Bice,” we’re gonna show off some musicianship so incredible it’s gonna blow off your cranium!”
Here, the men break out into yet another highlight of the evening’s show — a stellar rendition of Traffic’s “Smiling Phases.” The song’s famous horn fanfare sets the stage for Bo’s staccato vocal delivery as he sings, “You’ll be amazed at the gaze on their faces as they sentence you.”
After a few choruses, Bo and the horn players disappear, leaving only the rhythm section on stage. From the sound of it, at this moment, BergenPAC feels more like an off-the-beaten-path New York City jazz nightclub than a premiere New Jersey concert hall.
First up during the instrumental interlude is a bebop-inspired keyboard solo where Glenn McClellan plays melody with his right hand and comps chords with his left, both moving a mile a minute.
Next, Ric Fierabracci performs an impressive bass solo.
Lastly, the rhythm section shifts into a funk beat and world-class drummer Dylan Elise plays an incredible solo on one of the finest-sounding drum kits we’ve heard in a long time — crisp and clean — in which the various drums and cymbals not only sound “rhythmic” but, beyond that, actually sound “melodic.”
“Yeah!” yells the crowd, as they clearly notice what a special performance this is!
Perfectly executing every complex rhythm while still keeping impeccable time to the beat, Elise spins his drumsticks as he plays with both hands just like an acrobat!
“YAY!” scream several members of the audience, as the complete band retakes the stage. Here, audience members dance in their seats and cheer for the number’s dramatic conclusion!
Before their next song, Bo introduces bassist Ric Fierabracci as the lead vocalist on the group’s lovely Blood, Sweat & Tears ballad, “Sometimes in Winter.”
His rich tone sounding sweet and fine, the group ultimately morphs the piece into a large-scale swing jazz number which sets the audience’s fingers tapping.
Explaining that despite the fact that Blood, Sweat & Tears typically “plays their hits in concert,” Bice cautions, “but we also play songs you’ve never heard BS&T play before.”
Shouting, “Show me some ‘Mercy,!’” Bice and the boys provide their own unique take on Duffy’s 2008 hit, “Mercy.’” Featuring power guitar chords and tight harmonies from the horns, the stage lights blink on this tune which sounds reminiscent of Gladys Knight’s 1974 hit, “I’ve Got to Use My Imagination.” Following a dreamy interlude, Bice shows off his vocal control abilities via the use of his falsetto voice. Dancing around as he sings, he demonstrates to the crowd that he’s clearly having a blast on stage.
Following huge cheers and applause, Bo tells the audience that, as a unit, Blood, Sweat & Tears was “nominated for ten Grammy awards and won three” and even “beat The Beatles in 1970,” referring to that as “a pretty big achievement.”
Going on to note, “We’re gonna play some Grammy-award winners now,” Bo adds, “You can sing along with me… and have some fun.”
Here, Bice and the group perform the band’s 1969 album cut, “God Bless the Child.” Bo’s voice sounds as rich and full as a Hammond B3 organ. Ozzie Melendez takes center stage for a rousing trombone solo, making his horn ring out all through the theater. This is followed by a trumpet solo by Jonathan Powell that’s so high, nearly all of it is “off the horn” — meaning beyond the normal range of the instrument. He also plays his solo so fast, it sounds like more like an adaptation of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” than a Billie Holiday jazz standard!
The audience whistling and cheering, the band moves on to a crowd-pleasing rendition of Laura Nyro’s “And When I Die.” Audience members happily clap and sway to the music created by Bo, the rhythm section, and the mighty BS&T horns.
The group follows that up with a thrilling rendition of their 1969 mega-hit, “Spinning Wheel.” The crowd dances in their seats and sings along to the tune’s famous lyrics, “What goes up/Must come down,” after which Bo struts around the stage smiling as the band continues to rock.
Dillon Kondor is featured on a screamin’ electric guitar solo and, afterwards, Jonathan Powell’s trumpet solo is so “hot,” that illuminated by the bright stage lights, the audience — literally — can see a faint cloud of steam rising from his valves!
Members of the crowd scream “YAY!” and Bo gives a proud fist pump before he and the rest of the band receive a well-deserved standing ovation.
For their first encore, the group performs another major highlight of the evening’s program, BS&T’s personal tribute to Greg Allman, lead singer and organist of The Allman Brothers, who recently passed away. On this top-notch jazzy, yet soulful, arrangement of “Midnight Rider,” Bo delivers a poignant performance, mesmerizing the crowd as he passionately wails, “I’m not gonna let them catch me, no/Not gonna let ’em catch the midnight rider.”
Add to this a powerful electric guitar solo by Dillon Kondor, in which he borrows the iconic melody line from The Allman Brothers’ classic instrumental, “Jessica” — not to mention the incredible sounds of the BS&T horn and rhythm sections — and you have, in our view, one of the top live concert performances of the year.
After tremendous applause, Bice points directly at the crowd and says, “This one’s for you!” Here, he and the band perform BS&T’s 1969 gold record, “You Made Me So Very Happy.” Earnestly singing to the fans, Bo gives them 110% while he is solidly matched by the rest of the group — the rhythm section behind him, and the horns lined up right in the front — before being rewarded with yet another standing ovation.
“Thank you!” exclaims Bo with a smile, “I’m Bo Bice, this is Blood, Sweat & Tears, and we love you guys!”
As the contented crowd exits the theater, we take a moment to stop and chat with several members of the audience to get their take on this evening’s tribute to classic jazz-rock.
First, we talk with Patrice from Boonton who exclaims, “Bo has a great voice! This is the first time I’ve seen this group, and it is more than I expected — in fact, it’s the best concert I’ve seen in a long time.”
Gerry from Mahwah reveals, “The show was outstanding. I was extremely impressed with the musicality. The drummer was really cool — I was watching him, especially during his solo. I also like the way they showcased each performer — especially Bo Bice — who has such great stage presence and an incredible voice!”
Marsha from Leonia agrees, stating, “I enjoyed this concert a lot. It was so cool!” before adding, “And the singer, Bo Bice? We could all tell how very proud he is of his band.”
Marsha’s friend, Arieh, a musician from Leonia, goes on to note, “The drummer was awesome. I’m a percussionist myself, and I can tell you he was fantastic! And not only do I love this band’s catalog of music, but I love that it is played by great musicians.”
Lastly, we spot Michael from Ramsey, sporting a huge smile because, just moments before, he received a set list personally autographed by several members of Blood, Sweat & Tears.
Discloses Michael, “I’ve been rockin’ and rollin’ my whole life and I’ve been coming to BergenPAC for concerts for a long time, too. I’m a big BS&T fan — they’re my #1 group — with Chicago as a close #2. But this show? I’d just call it absolutely phenomenal!”
For more on upcoming performances by Blood, Sweat & Tears featuring Bo Bice, please go to bloodsweatandtears.com. For more on future events at BergenPAC — including Dave Mason on July 13 and The Zombies on July 14 — please click on www.bergenpac.org.Photos by Love Imagery
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