Tag Archives: Eric Darius

Eric Darius and Larry Braggs bring in a New Year of Excellence.


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On New Year’s Eve 2013 a dynamic show took place at the Huntington Beach Hyatt Regency Resort and Spa. Saxophonist Eric Darius with his special guest, Larry Braggs opened the evening’s festivities in front of Brian Culbertson. This high energy lineup of exuberant artists, who are at the top of their game, made it a New Year’s Eve not to forget.
Darius and Braggs take an enormous amount of pride in performing to that level of excellence. This coming year that tradition of distinction will carry on through all of their endeavors. Speaking to both performers, they shared with me what is coming up for them. True to form, both gentlemen will be very busy performing as well as continuously creating and 2014 looks exciting for each of them.
Larry Braggs – After a 14 year run as lead singer of Tower of Power, Braggs has just embarked on a solo career and there is no stopping him from his pursuit of creative expression. He is working on two albums right now, one is a blues, soul record and the other is with his trio doing a series of Salons in people’s homes called The Cook Book Living Room Series. They will be performing the music of Sam Cooke, hence the name “Cookbook,” starting in March and he is working on recording those sessions for an album.

He is also writing a book of poems and quotations he has penned. The quotations will include some from famous people that he enjoys as well.
Another exciting venture for Braggs will be doing a segment with Destination Magazine called, “On the Road”. “It will be (in part) about my concert travels and I will also do interviews with other musicians while on the road. It won’t be typical interviews; more of the inside scoops, and insights while they tour, in video segments.”

So in 2014 we will be able to catch Braggs in three dimensions; live in concert, reading his writings and seeing him on video segments. He says he might even try to throw in a Christmas record but adds that is just something in the back of his head right now.

For what he has yet to do Braggs wants to do a lot more speaking to kids in schools, saying, “There is a gap from taking music and arts out of schools. It’s left a void and my contribution is to give back. I know how important it is to have structure and mentorship and how important teaching is. We have benefited a lot and it’s important to give back to the kids now so they can help the next generation.”

Eric Darius – This was the first New Year’s Eve show Darius has done in a long time and he was very excited to share the stage with Braggs once again. He says it was an amazing night of dancing partying and celebrating the evening in the right way. Braggs adds, “Eric Darius is one of the up and coming saxophone players and I always enjoy doing shows with him, he’s a high energy guy and he will be around for a long time.”
“It’s a pretty energized deal by Eric and (me) and it will be fun,” says Braggs offering a straightforward description. “We’ll be playing songs from all our albums and we may mix things up a little too. It can turn into something we’re not expecting it to be… it could just take off and never come back.”

The last few months of 2013 were very busy with new opportunities. Darius performed with Mary J. Blige (Grammy Award winner) and Verve Music Group Chairman, David Foster for a live orchestra concert on the Home Shopping Network. “It was amazing and a tremendous opportunity to share the stage with both Mary J. Blige and David Foster. They are each incredible and accomplished artists. I had a great time working with them and hope there will be more opportunities in the future.” He also appeared on The X Factor season finale and you may have caught him in an episode of Mob City.
Darius will release a new album in 2014. As an artist he says he wants to try new things and evolve musically so this album will have a new sound. With each of his albums, his goal is to stretch and try new styles. “That’s the true excitement about releasing new music”, he says. “It’s pointless to release a new album if you don’t have anything new to say. There have been so many changes and experiences over the years and they will be reflected on this album.”

Darius’ school campaign, On A Mission is also something he wants to keep promoting. He says, “It (forwards) music education and encourages the younger generation to follow their dreams about playing an instrument and any other dreams they have for themselves. It’s about keeping the music alive in schools and something that we are definitely going to be refocusing on for 2014.”
Darius has many exciting things in the works and adds, “It is very important for me to connect with my fans and they are the reason I get to do what I love to do. I’m thankful for all their support … and that they are going on this journey with me.”

Larry Braggs Standing on the Side of Greatness

Larry Braggs Standing on the Side of Greatness

Melina Paris

The stars have aligned and the time has arrived. Larry Braggs is about to embark on a solo career and he has lots of plans. One of the first events coming up for him is the Wilson Creek Winery Concert on September 13. He will share the stage with Eric Darius, and anyone who has seen either of these two high-spirited artists knows well that they are in for an invigorating show.

Braggs has been lead vocalist with renowned soul band, Tower of Power for the past 13 years, during which time the band earned a Grammy nomination in 2006 for “Best Remixed Recording – Non Classical”.

Asking him about the highlights of working in Tower of Power, he says there are so many.

“From my good friend and great musician who I learned to love and got to know before he left us, Mr. George Duke, to singing with James Brown on tour with Power, that was a big highlight. I got to do shows with Little Richard and my great friend Marcus Miller. He has done so much from such an early age, you’d think he was 100 years old, and Dr. John with so much talent, just hanging out with him. Those are the highlights.”

Braggs has said, “In Tower of Power you’ve got to have soul,” his soul music inspirations range from the romance of artists like Lionel Ritchie, Peabo Bryson and Jeffrey Osborne, to the richness of Charlie Wilson of The Gap Band and the funk of James Brown. But he says what people don’t realize is that he holds a special affinity for Sir Tom Jones.

He continues, “He is a big inspiration to me, even to this day. What he’s done in his career and being that solid an entertainer for all these years. I used to go into the house as a little kid to watch the Tom Jones Show. I could be outside playing football or basketball or whatever, but if the Tom Jones Show came on, I’m going in the house to watch it.”

“I have an eclectic taste for music and soul is feel good music, it is the voice of your soul” Braggs says.

Very early on when Braggs started singing with Tower they were not sure he was the voice and were still auditioning other singers. As it turned out he was the right voice after all. He explains how that experience influenced his decision to branch out into a solo career.

Growing up in Chicago, in a place called Pig Town, he says his parents were tough-minded people. They were very well educated in street smarts and just how to survive. Braggs watched his father as a powerful and strong man his whole life. Even while bedridden he always said, “I might give out but I’ll never give up.”

When this happened at the beginning with Tower he thought he could say forget this, but his motivation kicked in. He didn’t have a job back home and Tower didn’t want him for this job he explains, so he had to prove them wrong.

“They said they didn’t think I was the voice but they don’t have anybody right now. So, could I stay until they find the person they are looking for? I mean, who does that?”

So he stepped it up saying, “I’m not the best singer in the world but I will not let anyone out entertain me. I decided I was going to be the best singer they ever had.”

Coming in to Tower, Braggs entered as a piece of something already there. He says he had other music he wanted to do. Feeling strong about that, he had to make his move because he says, being safe is not always best for a person.

“It’s up to you, once you make the commitment to keep driving the bus. You may have downfalls and valleys, it won’t always go your way, but you have to keep focused and believe that you can be successful. If you aren’t, at least you tried and didn’t just sit on the couch and waste away.”

For his solo career Braggs’ wants to put out different kinds of records, soul, blues, jazz and rock-n-roll. He currently has a record out with the band CTA (California Transit Authority), a rock band which the original drummer for Chicago, Danny Seraphine is in. Braggs sings on four tracks on their sophomore CD, called Sacred Ground.

“We’re doing more things together now and I’ve got some offers from other bands. I’m concentrating on doing a little bit of everything but more of what I want the world out there to hear from me. People saw what I could do with Tower and I’ve given them a little taste on my last two records, Places and Just Saying”

Braggs has had a very diverse performance background going back to his days in college at University of Arkansas Pine Bluff and North Carolina A and T. He studied opera for several years and has done theater, musicals and even a few movies, (Wild Cats, Soldier Story, Player 5150). It’s no wonder he wants to embark on a solo career. It seems it was only a matter of time before he would want this and now is his time.

Braggs would like his new record to showcase a lot of the new music he wants to do. He says it’s going to be fun, kind of a blues soul record. He’s really looking forward to this particular project.

He adds, “I love Gary Clark Jr. and the success he had. I’ve been looking forward to doing a similar record and mine will be a little more vocal than on the guitar side.”

Braggs explains, “We’re doing a Kick Starter campaign for the upcoming record. Certain donations will receive CD’s and MP3’s of the single, all the way up to $10,000. For that amount we will do a personal concert for you and your friends at your house or wherever you decide.”

“Without TOP I would not be in the position I am now. They’ve really helped me grow as a singer and a musician. The band has its own way of doing things and it increased a lot of skills I didn’t know I had. It taught me how to be a better singer; if I am a better singer at all,” he humbly jokes.

“Singers are musicians; we have this incredible god given gift and we have to take care of it. It’s the only instrument we have. Like I said, how you feel is how that instrument is going to deliver. When I go on stage, that’s my gospel in life, to make you forget anything negative that might have happened in your life and to bless you with something to walk away with and feel good. I know when I go on stage and perform I feel better than I did before I went out there.”

Braggs and his band have a big show coming up at Theater 166 in Carrollton, Texas, near Dallas on October 4. It will be videotaped and streamed online. He says he is looking forward to it and showing people what he’s been working on.

He muses, “I know that I was put in charge of a talent and I’m supposed to nurture a talent and share a talent and be respectful of it. That’s the thing that a lot of musicians know and a lot learn it as we start playing all over the world. Going to other countries and seeing the faces of the people and the greetings that they give you is amazing. People actually know who I am, it’s really a blessing.”

Braggs adds that there’s something very honest about playing away from home. People in other countries get live music, and they accept it more. They give an artist a chance and if they like you they accept you. They love you for life and they let you know it. It’s truthful.

“We’re living in trying times and if you’re a musician and have something to say, people listening to the music hear the words more than anything else. Your words will cause someone to act in a certain way. You didn’t plan it that way but what you say and what they hear, depending on what they’re going through in their life is really going to lead them in a certain way.”

He continued putting a very fine point on his conviction saying, “You have to be careful what you put out there and how you portray yourself to kids especially because they’re watching. You are a bastion of everything around you when you become a person of interest or wealth or popularity. It’s better to be on the side of greatness than on the side of weakness.”

The pairing of Larry Braggs and Eric Darius together is a hot match. Braggs is a very charismatic, lively exuberant singer and Darius is just that way on his saxophone. Before we closed I asked Mr. Braggs what it’s like to share the stage with Eric Darius.

“I’m an old man; I’ve got to get my laps before I go on stage with Eric, he doesn’t know how to slow down. He has so much energy! One time on the jazz cruise David Sanborn looked at him and said. “If I did that I would die.” He’s out of his mind when he’s on stage and it’s just fun doing it that way. He has come into his own.

He adds, “I don’t know if my new record will have me jumping around at one hundred miles per hour but it’s still going to have the same energy because the energy is the energy no matter what it is. I would love to have him play on my record too, he doesn’t know that yet but if he reads this article, he will know.”

“I’m looking forward to playing with all the guys on the roster at Infinity Artist Group. This is the agency to look out for.”

Closing in a spirit of greatness, Braggs adds, “Be good to yourself, be good to others. Take life as it is because we know what the end is. So live it, be kind to everyone that you meet and smile more.”


Blake Aaron Shares His Passion at Wilson Creek Winery

Blake Aaron Shares His Passion at Wilson Creek Winery
Melina Paris

It’s that time again. The Wilson Creek Winery jazz concert is coming up and the talented
multi-faceted Blake Aaron is opening the show on September 13. Aaron will be followed by the high energy and charismatic team of Eric Darius and Larry Braggs.

Aaron says he is totally looking forward to playing at Wilson Creek Winery and adds,
“We also just got word that we have a very well-known special surprise guest coming. I can’t say his name but he’s going to appear with us on our set.”

Aaron is an accomplished musician, composer, recording artist and radio show host. His nationally syndicated weekly radio show is recorded live from host station KSBR and is streamed on iTunes. Aaron used to be a guest at the radio station from time to time and it was suggested to him that he had a good radio personality and should consider doing his own show.

He says, “I always wanted to do something live on the air; it seems like people play CD music, people do interview shows but no one has the artist come down and play live on air. I could play with them and it’s almost like the old MTV unplugged shows on the radio.”

So he took a bunch of radio classes and started broadcasting. He has built up the show over five years now and had many musically diverse artists on, from Anita Baker and Earl Klugh, to Jon Anderson, singer from the prog rock group Yes, Najee and Bill Medley.

Aaron mixes it up a bit with the show, incorporating some comedy, artist interviews and live and recorded music listening. It’s a variety radio show of sorts.

That variety also spills over into his playing. Aaron likes to include the blues in his repertoire, and on occasion has shared the stage and recorded with a wide range of R&B and funk artists, including Bobby Womack, Mary Wells, The Gap Band and Funkadelic. Aaron has also played in a lot of rock bands back in the Sunset Strip days.

Aaron explains, “Combining all that with my love for jazz and playing jazz, a lot of that does come out as the blues.”

Aaron adds he has been influenced by some great blues artists like, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck, which has given him kind of a bluesy style as well.

On his Billboard single, “You’re the One for Me,” Aaron wrote the music and lyrics and got the soothing and sophisticated vocalist Spencer Day to sing on it. It’s a very soulful song which has that rich mix of influences that often unfolds in Aaron’s music.

He also has a new song out now called, “You’re My Miracle”, which he wrote along with Derek Bordeaux who will also appear with him at Wilson Creek. It’s an easy feeling, melodious number with rich layers of expression.

Aaron writes his own music and has composed music for film and TV. He has also been guitarist on many TV shows including, Mad TV, The Super Dave Osborne Show, Blue Collar TV, The Jamie Kennedy Experiment and many more.

He says he feels really lucky to perform his own music and be working on his fourth CD called Soul Stories, on which some of his latest singles will be featured. Playing for people is important to him as much as he loves the TV, film and production work he does for other artists.

The professional accomplishment that Aaron says he holds closest to his heart is,
“To do shows and put out music I’ve written and seeing the effect it has on people’s lives, it’s what I hold the closest to my heart. I feel very blessed to do what I love and have a wonderful family to share it all with. We have a little boy who just turned one and a five-and-a-half-year-old daughter.”

This year is sure to bring a highly entertaining show. Aaron wants his fans to know that they are really looking forward to seeing everybody out there at The Wilson Creek Winery. Come enjoy a night offering nothing short of pure musical expression and diversity with Blake Aaron.

Eric Darius, Larry Braggs and Blake Aaron at Wilson Creek Winery!

Infinity Artists Group presents the very exciting and entertaining duo of Eric Darius and Larry Braggs at the Wilson Creek Winery. Come see Billboard #1 artist Eric Darius and Grammy nominated artist Larry Braggs perform live on September 13th at the Wilson Creek Winery in Temecula.

Eric and Larry provide a synergy that is unmatched with any other show. Opening the show will be the talented Blake Aaron. Last year this show sold out quickly, so purchase your tickets soon to reserve your spot at what has proven to be a show loved by all. A limited number of dinner and wine packages with reserved table seating are available.

Buy your tickets here…

Taking a Holiday at the New San Diego Jazz Festival


Taking a Holiday at the New San Diego Jazz Festival

From La Costa Resort and Spa

Melina Paris

When a radio station changes its format, live music events the station sponsors can suffer some collateral damage. When people who are passionate about music mobilize, live music prevails.

This past Memorial Day weekend we saw just such an occurrence. A few years ago, award winning San Diego smooth jazz station KIFM switched music formats and the annual jazz festival they promoted in the historic Gaslamp Quarter ended.

Quickly to the rescue, the Payne’s of Payne Pest Management in association with Brad Laughlin are bringing you the new San Diego Jazz Festival. Willie and Kathy Payne are determined to bring live jazz back for you to enjoy in our beautiful San Diego setting. Brad Laughlin promotes the Arizona and Las Vegas Jazz Festivals as well. Between the Payne’s passion for music and Laughlin’s know-how, the new San Diego Jazz Festival was born at the serene La Costa Resort in Carlsbad on Memorial Day weekend. The tradition is renewed!

By the looks of it, keeping to tradition works. Attending Saturday’s festivities I had the privilege of seeing a great lineup of artists starting with the R&B/Latin soul/jazz group, DW3. Now we’re talking smooth here.  Eric Mondragon, William Mondragon and Damon Reel, who make up this trio, harmonize beautifully together. It turns out members of DW3 are related to the Latin and R&B band from the 1970’s, Tierra. Melodic grooves certainly run in this family. These three are great musicians who had the audience on their feet throughout most of their performance.  Engaging showmen that they are, they interact with the audience, dance a little and play great music. They performed a wonderful cover of Luther Vandross’ “All My Love” and original numbers, including the romantic “On the Floor” and “Would You Mind?” which showcased a powerful guitar solo.

Following DW3 were the classic soul and jazz stylings of Kim Waters and Phil Perry. Kim Waters is a smooth saxophone player with great poise. He paces his notes through songs with the self-assurance of the seasoned musician he is. He touches his audience through his affecting technique, letting the notes offer unexpected expressions from his horn.

Phil Perry was born to sing, and that is the plain truth. Merging the talent of these two jazz titans resulted in the purest musical manifestation. Waters, in an all cream suit, opened the set by playing two lingering and harmonious numbers. He then introduced Perry to the stage and the audience reacted with great enthusiasm. When Perry opened with “Distant Lover” the concert goers were thrilled. Perry has the gift to move an audience with his voice, so sweet, it’s like icing on a cake. When he went into The Isley Brothers “Living for the Love of You” this audience became his backup singers right on cue. Following that classic we were treated to a number by Waters called “The Ride“ where he seamlessly showed us his range, from smooth all the way to straight ahead jazz. A friendly seat neighbor made the comment, “This is real jazz.”

Next up was a wonderful highlight of the concert with Eric Darius and Larry Braggs. Eric always creates a high energy show and Larry, also a part of Tower of Power, brings his own brand of vocal might to the stage. Besides the talent of these two artists, they had what amounted to a small orchestra performing with them: two more horns, (sax and trumpet), two guitars, keyboards, drums, bass and percussion player. This place was jumping! Eric came in with a strong start looking crisp in white slacks and a pastel blue shirt. He moved into the perfect number for a summer day titled “Kingston’s Flavor” in a nod to his Caribbean roots. Extending this number out nice and long the percussion player initiated a call and response with the audience echoing his beats. Soon enough Larry came on stage to start things up asking, “Does everybody know something about James Brown?” leading into, “I Got the Feeling”.  Eric was all over this number. The band, lined up swaying back and forth in time. With Larry, his big voice channeling James Brown, their performance socked a whole new form of electrified energy into this venue. The audience was charged up and ready for more. After a soothing version of Marvin Gaye’s, “I Want You”, they played Tower of Power’s, “What is Hip” escalating the groove and the mood.

They followed with Alicia Keys’ “All I Want Is You”.  Rich Antonio, on electric keys was actually administering backup to Eric’s horn by producing an element that sounded like his keyboard was scatting. Yes, the keyboard was scatting; live on stage with reverb as Eric fanned Antonio with a jazz fest tee shirt.

By the way, this year’s tee shirt, in complimentary fashion, pictures a silhouette of Eric Darius playing his sax. From there, Darius was off and running into the audience. He got up close and personal with his horn and played for attendees face to face. Musically, visually and viscerally it was a feast for the ears. More than a set; this was a complete and invigorating show.

Coming next were, Jonathan Butler, Sheila E. and Elan Trotman. This concert happened to be the debut of Butler’s Soul of Summer Tour featuring Trotman and Sheila E. Together this diverse group of artists brought some very cool and interesting vibes combining Butler’s South African roots and Trotman and Sheila E’s Caribbean and Latin flavors respectively.

Trotman opened with a groove called “Heaven in Your Eyes” tranquilly gliding us into the twilight. Jonathan Butler’s 1980’s hit “Sara, Sara” followed to the audiences delight. Butler joined in with some “ahh yeh, ahh yeh, ahh yeh’s” on the next number “The Wave” off Trotman’s new CD, Tropicality. It’s a cool summer groove bringing a happy feeling.

Introducing Sheila E. to the stage they went into their interpretation of Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry.” Their version, slower than Marley’s original, was performed with a melodic jazz guitar reminiscent of Earl Klugh, eloquently highlighting higher chords. It was quite a pleasant surprise and so nice to listen to under the sun.

Something that was expected though was delivered in top form, Sheila E’s “Glamorous Life” Performed with Trotman on sax and of course Sheila’s dynamic drum solo, this audience was dancing with joy. It was the perfect finale.

Eight times Grammy nominated Ledisi brought us into the evening next with her rich and strong vocals. This woman has energy. Wearing a vivid cobalt blue strapless dress, she commands your attention as she literally bounces around the stage. Opening with “Think of You”, she likes to get the audience to sing along with her, encouraging us between delivering song verses. Shortly into her second number “Raise Up”, about the inspiration the title implies, she seemed to be even more energized, coquettishly expressing “I’m sorry, I’m not smooth jazz.” She loves to sing and her style reminded me of the exuberant spirit of Patti Labelle.  On “Joy”, her funky roller skating song, the band went deep into a continuous cool vibe of lighthearted funk while Ledisi scatted and displayed her vocal range with finesse (She studied opera at UC Berkeley and grew up in a musical family from New Orleans). This cheerful animated artist loves to converse with the audience. Before the end of her set she was sharing advice from her mother with us, “Have faith, love yourself by any means necessary, be careful of what and whom you allow into your personal circle.” She continued later, “I could just be cute and sing but I have a purpose to let you know.” It’s clear; Ledisi also has a purpose to sing with contagious joy.

To close this evening out was the consummate musician, keyboardist and trombonist, writer arranger and producer Brian Culberson. Whew, what a show!  He opened saying he has lots of music for us, and did he. Opening with “So Good” and leading into “Always Remember” from his CD Bringing Back the Funk, every instrument comes through clearly. It’s funk, it’s jazz, it’s bebop, it’s amazing and we witnessed it- live. Along with his keys and trombone, Culbertson shared the stage with two vocalists; Jason Morales and Selena Albright as well as guitar, bass, drums, and a second keyboardist. Honestly, it sounded like even more than that. “Still Here” featured Albright on vocals. It’s a rock ballad yet has classical elements with Culbertson’s meticulous keyboard playing and Albright’s strong voice, both remarkably clean and clear. On Tower of Power’s “You’ve Got to Funkifize”, Culbertson jammed on the trombone once again moving all over the stage as though he were on a mission. At this point, Culbertson seemed to have caught the spirit and took us on a musical joy ride.

They slowed it down for a bit with the classic “Secret Garden” featuring Morales on vocals and Culbertson playing each note on the keys ever so slowly and delicately.  Taking it further he started conducting the audience on the chorus, “if you think I’m gonna take care of you, if you think I got what you need, sho’ you right.”  Magical.

While playing Earth Wind and Fire’s “Serpentine Fire” these showmen snaked their way around the stage and brought the whole venue to its feet singing and boogieing along.

Bringing it all on “Funkin’ Like My Father”, Culbertson shared yet another talent, doing a rap. At multiple times during this show, Culbertson’s fingers and hands were moving so fast on his keyboard it looked as though the keys were singeing his fingertips. Culbertson and band played a one song encore as our goodnight gift.

The entire event was absolutely fantastic.  The weather was perfect, the setting was beautiful and the music was great.  Hurry up and get your tickets for next year’s Memorial Day weekend performance at La Costa Resort and Spa as they are sure to go quickly.