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Jazz orchestra to bring sounds of Billy Joel, Elton John, Stevie Wonder to Columbus stage

Not many people can say they’ve seen Billy Joel, Elton John and Stevie Wonder all in one night. The Columbus Jazz Orchestra isn’t promising that, but is bringing the three musicians’ music to the stage.

Under Byron Stripling’s conduction, the Columbus Jazz Orchestra, part of the Jazz Arts Group, is set to perform “Piano Men: The Music of Billy Joel, Elton John and Stevie Wonder” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Southern Theatre. Performances are planned to run through Sunday night.

Stripling said the artists were chosen to feature based on the messages in their music.

“Even though Elton John is not American, his music has really reached over the ocean and really grabbed the hearts of Americans,” he said. “And we’re looking for songs that touch the heart. If you think about a guy like Stevie Wonder, every single song he writes is about love and peace. Billy Joel is less of a peace activist … and Elton John and Billy, it’s all about love … That’s why we chose these guys.”

“Piano Men” is scheduled to include songs such as “Piano Man,” “Just the Way You Are,” “Your Song,” “Rocket Man,” “Sir Duke,” “Isn’t She Lovely” and more. Two guest artists also set to perform with the group are R&B vocalist Chester Gregory and Columbus singer and pianist Dave Powers.

Pete Mills, tenor saxophonist at the Columbus Jazz Orchestra, said the group really enjoys the music of Joel, John and Wonder.

“We all love this music,” he said. “I like Billy Joel, and who doesn’t love Stevie Wonder? The idea that we would take musicians that are creating music outside of jazz and mix it in the jazz ensemble is new, and it’s fun to put all three of those artists together.”

Mills said the Columbus Jazz Orchestra tries to put its own spin on all of its performances and that it wants “Piano Men” to have that same feeling.

“Music is so much of anything and everything,” he said. “The boundaries of music are almost limitless today … For folks who haven’t seen the band and think of it as something that’s far away from their musical lives, it’s not as far as one may think.”

Scott Vezdos, marketing and communications director at the Jazz Arts Group, said the universal theme of “Piano Men” is its far reach audience-wise.

“A lot of people know a Billy Joel song, or an Elton John song or a Steve Wonder song,” he said. “It’s very multi-generational theme. There are a lot of different songs that people can associate with or latch onto.” 

He added the show aims to draw a younger audience, including Ohio State students.

“It’s something more contemporary, so if people didn’t necessarily come to a Columbus Jazz Orchestra before because it was too straight-ahead jazz or it seemed a little old-fashioned, this is a show that really kind of goes beyond those barriers and really helps bring in a larger audience, especially a younger audience,” Vezdos said.

College students can purchase discounted tickets at the door for $15. The entire audience is invited to a scheduled after party with the band members Thursday at the Jury Room, located behind the Southern Theatre. On Saturday, an after-show performance is set to be held at the Westin Hotel. These events “are some extra add-on activities that we try to build on to the show,” Vezdos said.

Stripling said he wants the audience to have a positive emotional response from the performance, whether it is through a lyric or the music itself.

“It’s just a feeling that you get from the emotion of music,” he said. “What I know is that just the act of us singing, the act of us playing, hopefully can become food for the soul for the audience that comes into the theater … this is one of the gifts we can give the whole central Ohio community.”

Tickets are available through the CAPA Ticket Office and at Ticketmaster.

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