With special guest
“My jaw dropped when I heard him play piano — and then my heart dropped when I heard him sing.”
-- guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel
"Denise ranks with the all-time greats such as Ella, Sassy, Lady Day, Nancy, Dianne, Monica, and Carmen, to name a few."
-- Clark Terry, legendary Jazz trumpeter
Johnny O'Neal - piano, vocals
Denise Thimes - special guest, vocals
Dennis Carroll - bass
George Fludas - drums
After forty-plus years as a professional pianist, vocalist and entertainer, Johnny O’Neal has earned the title of “master” with fellow musicians and audiences around the world.
Highlights of his awe-inspiring career include stints with Ray Brown, Milt Jackson and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, as well as a Carnegie Hall debut in 1985 on solo piano opening for Oscar Peterson and induction into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame in 1998. There is little wonder he was tapped to play virtuoso pianist Art Tatum in the Academy Award-winning Ray Charles biopic Ray.
While playing with Blakey, he accompanied some of the great jazz divas, including Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae. Johnny has also been tapped for appearances by Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Pass, Nancy Wilson, Anita O’Day, Lionel Hampton, Kenny Burrell, Sonny Stitt, Benny Golson, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis and Clark Terry, among others. Performances on the festival circuits in Canada, Europe, Australia, Japan, Israel and South Africa have gained him an international following.
The Detroit native considers himself a piano player first, but was encouraged to sing in his sets more by Joe Williams. Johnny recalls Williams advising him, “If you’ve got it, flaunt it!” Astonishingly, he is largely self-taught.
His playing evokes the influences imbued in him by his idols Oscar Peterson and Art Tatum, and he has reshaped these elements into his own very swinging and melodic approach. In live performances, he is apt to catch his audience off-guard with his blues shouting or soulfully rendered yet unpretentious vocalizations.
Johnny explains, “I’m a tune guy. I know 1,500 songs. My father was a pianist and singer who emphasized that learning lyrics creates dynamics and a better interpretation of melody. I rehearse so that the bassist, drummer and I can get familiar with each other’s styles — not to set the songs we’ll play.” Hence, no two sets are ever alike. As the aptly named title of Johnny’s Fall 2017 release on Smoke Sessions Records suggests, he is truly in the moment.
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After describing her brilliant voice as a perfect mix of “Ella, Sassy, Lady Day, Nancy, Dianne, and Carmen, to name a few” it came only naturally that legendary jazz trumpeter Clark Terry would, at New York’s historic Flushing Town Hall, select Denise Thimes as that night’s guest vocalist.
Even sharing the stage with such jazz greats as Dr. Billy Taylor, Earl May, Benny Powell, Jimmy Heath and Tootie Heath couldn’t hinder the rising star, who dazzled the audience once more, bringing them to their feet for yet another series of standing ovations.
Throughout 2006, Thimes astounded audiences all over the world with some of the most prominent names in jazz including Clark Terry, James Moody, Kevin Mahogany and several other NEA Jazzmasters. This Flushing Hall high note in November came as the perfect finale to what was clearly an admirable year for Denise, and yet, she was just getting started. For Thimes, 2006 served as but a glimpse of what was to come.
This truly inspirational and unique artist is often asked by fellow noteworthy musicians “why haven’t we heard of you?” Not to worry. With a voice that noticeably (as Terry puts it) “ranks with one of the greats,” it won’t be long. It’s clear that Denise Thimes is unquestionably one of the fastest rising stars in modern jazz. So much, in fact, that when Queen Elizabeth II made her highly publicized visit to the United States in May of 2007, she hand‐selected Denise as the entertainment for her private dinner gala with President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush among many other esteemed guests.
An accomplished performer, Denise Thimes has always been destined for stardom. While many artists “dabble” in theater, Denise Thimes is an undisputed class act. She has toured both
America and Europe with several critically acclaimed productions and is an 8‐time recipient of the St. Louis Black Repertory Woodie Award for both musicals and drama.
Whether headlining at the historic “Blue Note Jazz Club” in New York, conquering the national jazz festival scene, or sharing the stage with the legendary Tony Bennett, Denise Thimes has an unmistakable tendency to steal the show and astonish crowds of every size and background.