LIVESTREAM REVIEW: TJ Johnson – Live on Facebook from his front room
(Review by Sue Carrette. Streamed lived on 1 April. Watch back on TJ Johnson’s Facebook page)
These are the strangest of days in so many ways. In recent weeks, we have all lost much of what we enjoy, and indeed what defines us. As clubs, pubs and halls across the country, from the world-famous to the local, have closed their doors, musicians have lost access to the venues that enable their work. This is for them an unprecedented and unique challenge, as it is (of course to a much lesser extent) for those of us who love and support live music.
TJ Johnson’s recent gig ‘Live on Facebook’, successfully overcame these limitations.
Although impossible to know on this occasion, TJ generally attracts a diverse audience. Likely a consequence of the range of musical influences that inhabit his work. Jazz and blues of course, but also gospel, and a long-term love of country, reflected in his 2019 album Songs from the Jazz Country. A regular with his band at Ronnie Scott’s, the Boisdale, and many national and international clubs and festivals, TJ has long been well known on the UK jazz scene and beyond. His 2015 album TJ Johnson in Retrospect celebrated 30 years in the business. Decades of experience that were evident in this live-streamed gig.
I was looking forward to the gig but was also curious to see how a musician, for whom audience rapport and engagement is so integral to their performance, would deliver. Over a hundred of us tuned in around the world, but TJ was essentially playing and singing alone in his own living room, knowing we were watching, yet unable to see and experience our reactions. In anticipation we settled down with drinks and treated it like the occasion it was.
A gig for our times, the selection of numbers was thoughtful, in part reflecting the themes of loneliness and separation, which will surely have resonated with all those watching. Starting with Willie Nelson’s Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground and including Stardust, Empty Bed Blues and Merle Haggard’s Listening to the Wind.
But there were also enough upbeat numbers to lift our spirits into a party mood, including Dark Town Strutter’s Ball, Hello Central Give Me Dr Jazz and Chuck Berry’s You Never Can Tell, which I confess had me dancing around my living room. The exuberant numbers also included My Castle’s Rockin’ (made famous by a long-time favourite of TJ’s, Alberta Hunter). It is, as TJ said, about ‘having a party in your flat’ so very apt for these times.
This was an intimate and personal gig with TJ reaching out to friends, family, and fans old and new, playing requests and even Happy Birthday for one lucky viewer. We were entertained and for an hour transported away from our four walls. Effortless piano playing, coupled with a voice of believable experience, speaks to a broken heart while reminding you that life is for the living. I can’t think of a better voice to comfort and inspire in these times of loss and fear.
Music in general – and jazz specifically – is quite simply one of those things that makes life worth living, whatever the challenges. We need our musicians now more than ever. Support online gigs if you can (it will ease the ‘lockdown blues’). And when these days are over and venues reopen, I for one will walk through their doors with a renewed appreciation for the opportunity to do so, and a TJ Johnson gig will be top of my list.
Categories: Live review