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Countdown: Your Planning Guide for Music August 17-23

It’s going to be a great weekend for music in NEO, but where to start? Countdown gets you ready with a roundup of some of the most notable music events that you might want to check out. Think of it as your every-Thursday planning guide to a weekend of music and good times.


Keigo Hirakawa Trio, Thursday, Aug. 17, 7 p.m., BOP STOP, Cleveland

It would be convenient to describe Keigo Hirakawa as an academic who plays piano as a hobby, but after one listen to Dr. Hirakawa (he’s professor of electrical and computer engineering college at the University of Dayton) charge through postbop changes, it’s apparent that he could have gone pro in jazz. And he has with a new record, Pixel (Origin Records), that dropped in June. To celebrate the release, Hirakawa will rip it up with bassist Eddie Brookshire and drummer Reggie Jackson.

Bob James, Thursday, Aug. 17, 7 p.m., Gervasi Vineyard Winery, 1700 55th St. NE, Canton

It takes a very special talent to have a career arc that starts in free jazz, proceeds to the musical directorship with legendary vocalist Sarah Vaughn and eventually leads to high-profile producing gigs with hitmakers Stevie Nicks and Kenny Loggins. Yet that’s exactly what composer/arranger/pianist Bob James accomplished in 15-odd years from the mid ’60s to the dawn of the Michael Jackson era in pop. In between, James stood as godfather to smooth jazz with his arrangements for saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr.’s Mr. Magic (Kudu Records, 1975). With a resume like that, it’s easy to forget how influential James’ airy style on the Rhodes piano has become. James, who will be 84 on Christmas Day, is in the middle of an extended tour that will bring him to Cain Park Sept. 9. So what’s he doing in Canton? He has family in the area. Cin cin.

Thollem Electric, Friday, Aug. 18, 8 p.m., Waterloo Arts, 16505 Waterloo Rd., Cleveland

The keyboard player Thollem McDonas, who performs as Thollem, will play anywhere with anyone. He’s currently on a swing through several Midwest cities taking on all comers, chess-hustler style, but without the adversarial element. That’s because his musical vision is as broad and all-encompassing as his technique. If Thollem were an athlete, he’d be an elite marathoner. I’ve seen him unleash an astonishingly unbroken torrent of notes for an inhumanly sustained period. There’s nothing quite like him, but if you don’t catch his solo electric set at this New Ghosts presentation, you might have to wait a while to hear him. He’s just announced an eight-month sabbatical from performing to finish a film project. Saxophonist Alex Henry completes the bill.

Brad Wagner Quintet, Tuesday, August 22, 7 p.m., Cain Park, Cleveland Heights

The free series of Tuesday evening concerts at Cain Park is one of the prime reasons to celebrate summer in Northeast Ohio, especially when it’s in the capable hands of the band that will convene under the leadership of saxophonist Brad Wagner. Trumpeter Garrett Folger, Jackie Warren on piano, Swiss-Army bassist Aidan Plank  and Steve Renko on drums know their way around a standard tune or a bebop chestnut. Expect warm rapport and effortless among the soft breezes and sunset color at the Alma Theater.

I couldn’t live without Jim Szabo’s essential, weekly Northeast Ohio jazz calendar , NEO’s most complete list of jazz and jazz-adjacent events. If you haven’t visited it lately, what are you waiting for?

NOTE: This article was written by a real human being. No artificial intelligence or generative language models were used in its creation.

Red beans and ricely yours,
John Chacona