Category Archives: Appreciation of Others

Harry Connick Jr (this is genius!)

What do you do when your listeners clap on 1 and 3 instead of 2 and 4?  Do you stop the music and chastise the audience for crippling the song with a stilted beat?

This is the situation Harry Connick Jr found himself in when performing in France a dozen or so years ago. But rather than stop the song Connick got the audience to clap on 2 and 4 without them even knowing it.

Here’s the clip. Pay attention to what happens around 0:39.


WTF!  Up until 0:39 everybody is clapping on 1 and 3 but from 0:42 the audience is clapping on 2 and 4.

How’d he do that?

He added a 5/4 bar; that is, he added one extra beat that displaced the audience clapping so the tune went from square to hip.

Brilliance.  And that he came up with the solution mid-performance is genius.

The Actor with the Best Theme Songs

When I associate actors with theme songs I come up with combinations like Alan Alda and Mash, Hal Linden and Barney Miller and Alan Reed (voice of Fred Flintstone) and, well, The Flintstones.

But there’s one actor that is associated with three great theme songs.

Last Thanksgiving I mentioned to my brother, Rick, that I was thinking of performing the theme from Secret Agent at The Top Shelf’s next show.  Secret Agent was a popular spy show from the 1960s, starred Patrick McGoohan, and had a great theme song (“Secret Agent Man”) that became a big hit for Johnny Rivers.

Here’s a clip of Rivers performing the song for the TV show Live at the Hollywood Palace.

Rick thought that “Secret Agent Man” was good, but that I should do “High Wire” instead.

I looked at my brother like I didn’t know what he was talking about because I in fact did not know what he was talking about.

Rick, showing more patience with me than usual, explained that “High Wire” was the theme song to Danger Man.

I again looked at my brother like I didn’t know what he was talking about because…

With even greater patience, Rick explained that Danger Man was the name in the UK for Secret Agent and that Danger Man had its own theme song, “High Wire.”

And that theme song is terrific.  Here’s a clip of it performed by Jools Holland and his band from a documentary about the song’s composer, Edwin Astley.

But wait, there’s more.

Patrick McGoohan starred in a cult sci-fi / mystery series called The Prisoner and it, too, had a great theme song (one at the start of the show and a different one for the closing credits).  Here’s a snippet.

Does any other actor come close to having this many great theme songs?

And if this arsenal doesn’t elevate McGoohan to “serious badass” in your eyes, consider this clip of him playing drums from the 1962 film All Night Long.

While McGoohan is not, in fact, playing drums he apparently worked very hard so that it would be convincing.

Mr. McGoohan, you are in a class of your own.

An Appreciation of Wilton Felder and “I Want You Back”

Earlier this year the music world lost Wilton Felder.  Most people familiar with Felder know him as a brilliant saxophone player and founding member of the jazz / funk / soul super group The Crusaders.

What many people don’t know is that in the early 1970s Felder was also a first-call studio bass player and is responsible for laying down one the greatest bass lines in pop music history.

Here for your enjoyment is Felder’s isolated bass line to The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back.”  I’ve studied and played this line countless times and marvel at Felder’s tone, clarity, and rock-solid groove. This is as good as it gets.


Our Fifth Anniversary!

The Top Shelf is celebrating its fifth anniversary — we performed for the first time on April 3, 2010 (at 12 Grapes in Peekskill, NY.)

Thank you to everyone who has come out to see the band, the venues where we’ve performed (The Cutting Room, Mohegan Sun, The Towne Crier, DROM, and 12 Grapes), the families and organizations that have hired us, and especially the stellar musicians who have performed in the band.

Keyboard Saxophone Trumpets Vocals
Jon Cobert Jon Saxon Louise Baranger Angela Clemmons
Clifford Carter Joe Meo Tim Ouimette Edlene Hart
Lon Hoyt Bill Harris Clay Beard Russ Velazquez
David Keyes Mark Fineberg Dave Stangarone Andricka Hall
Jeff Schiller Chris Pasin Keith Fluitt
Drums / Percussion Shane Kirsch Greg Ruvulo Rob Paparozzi
Gene Lewin Rick Kriska Lew Soloff Dennis Collins
Roger Post Joe Giorgianni Tom “Blues Buddha” Dudley
Denny McDermott Guitar Jon Leonard Curtis Winchester
Mark Dodge Peter Calo John Trombetta Chrissi Poland
Norberto Goldberg Al Orlo Chris Melito Wondress Hutchinson
David Yee Andrew Zinsmeister Bill Ash Diana Wexler
Duncan Cleary Rosharra Francis
Will Van Sise Alessandra Levy
Hank Decora Mariama Ceesay
Sarah Ann Sillers
Carly Cantor

Here’s a recording of “Rehab” featuring Edlene Hart from our first show at 12 Grapes.

Here’s a video from our most recent show at The Cutting Room on February 6, 2015.

To see additional videos, click here.

We look forward to the next five years!

Thank You, Lew Soloff

Trumpet Legend Lew Soloff passed away in the early morning hours of Sunday, March 8, 2015 in New York City.

Soloff was the consummate New York musician whose 50-plus year career spanned thousands of recording sessions and live performances with artists such as Gil Evans, Blood Sweat and Tears, Frank Sinatra, Carla Bley, Barbra Streisand, Machito, Marianne Faithfull, Paul Shaffer, Manhattan Brass, Jon Faddis and Ornette Coleman.

The Top Shelf had the honor of working with Lew on September 27, 2013 when he took over the lead trumpet duties for a performance at The Cutting Room. A highlight of the evening was Lew performing his iconic solo from the Blood Sweat & Tears’ hit “Spinning Wheel.”

Thank you, Lew, for all the great music and for a terrific gig.

Click to read Soloff’s obituary in the New York Times.

Uptown Funk — The next “Happy”?

First it was “Blurred Lines” and then “Happy”.  It looks like the next “gonna-hear-it-at-every-wedding song” will be Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk”.

Except … it’s not a Bruno Mars tune.  Officially, it’s a Mark Ronson song that features Bruno Mars.

And just who is Mark Ronson?  He’s a household name in the UK but is not well known in the US despite producing Amy Winehouse’s mega hit album Back to Black and its Grammy winning single “Rehab”.

No matter whether it’s by Bruno Mars or Mark Ronson, it’s a really fun tune, with a great performance from Mars and an excellent arrangement and production from Ronson.

And I’ll be okay hearing it and playing it.  Probably a lot.

Name that tune — win two free tickets

The first person to identify the song using just the bass line will win two free tickets to Steve Wexler and The Top Shelf at The Cutting Room on October 17, 2014.

Send your submission to:

For Once in My Life — An Appreciation of Michael Henderson

I think I own everything that Stevie Wonder has recorded and released, going back to the early 1960s.  On a recent plane ride to Omaha with my iPhone in shuffle mode I stumbled across a live recording of “For Once In My Life” that Stevie made at a London nightclub in 1970.

The first thing I noticed was that the tempo was brighter than on the studio recording.  The second thing I observed was the absolutely killer bass line that I was ready to attribute to James Jamerson.

It turns out the line was not by Jamerson but by Michael Henderson, a then 18-year old phenomenon who who soon catch the eye of Miles Davis.  Here’s a snippet from the live show.

I’m not the only one that’s been taken by how good this line is.  There are at least two YouTube videos that pay homage to Henderson’s bass playing, including this one.


New Bottles for Old Wine — Van Morrison and Moondance

I’m always impressed with artists that take a tune for which they are famous and change it in a way that is faithful to the original yet fresh.

In the mid 1990s Van Morrison started performing a “big band” version of Moondance, his hit from 25 years earlier.  Here’s one performance from 1995 that features Georgie Fame on organ.

I’ve always enjoyed this song and we will be adding it to the Top Shelf repertoire (with horns of course.)

An Appreciation of Quincy Jones’ Early Work

“Hey, you should perform One Mint Julep” suggested a friend after hearing The Top Shelf perform at a show in New York City last year.

I finally decided to follow up on this and went on a YouTube listening spree.  I found several great renditions, including one by Sarah Vaughn and, of course, the 1961 monster hit version by Ray Charles.

It turns out both versions were arranged by Quincy Jones.

The recordings also remind me of Soul Bossa Nova, Jones’ own composition released a year later.

You may know that tune as the theme to the Austin Powers movies.

Will we do these songs at our upcoming show at the Cutting Room on January 31, 2014? No promises… but…

In the meantime, here are some YouTube clips for your enjoyment.

Soul Bossa Nova (1962)

The “laughing” instrument is a Cuíca.  I also love the two piccolos playing the melody in harmony.

Soul Bossa Nova (The Late Show with David Letterman)

Not sure of the date, but probably 2002.  Check out the great flugelhorn and “mumbles” solo from Clark Terry.

One Mint Julep (1961)

Ray Charles’ instrumental hit.  The band just kills.