By Jim Misunas
When pianist Jeff Franzel saw the Baldwin piano, he immediately thought of Les Brown.
The Baldwin piano is a community treasure that is signed by musical artists who perform for the Golden Belt Community Concert.
Great Bend didn’t resonate with Franzel until he saw the Baldwin piano signed by jazz legend Les Brown and himself from a concert May 3, 1978. Franzel performed on tour with Les Brown and the Band of Renown for three years.
“Those were special times and special memories,” said Franzel, who resides in Manhattan, N.Y. “I could hardly believe it. I was in Great Bend 34 years ago with Les Brown.”
Franzel’s talent and reputation as a songwriter gives him the luxury of picking and choosing his work. He began his career as a jazz pianist and toured with Les Brown and The Hues Corporation. He has accompanied legendary artists Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Mel Torme.
After focusing his energy on composing, Franzel has written for numerous artists while still retaining his reputation as a top-notch performer. Franzel has written songs for ‘N Sync, Taylor Dayne, The Temptations, Shawn Colvin and Clay Aiken.
When jazz artist Anna Wilson was searching for the right songwriter, Franzel’s name was mentioned. It’s been a match made in heaven ever since they met. A Great Bend audience was treated to their unique sound Tuesday night.
“I was visiting with a New York publisher looking for a great jazz musician and songwriter and Jeff’s name was passed to me,” Wilson said. “We visited in New York and hit it off great. We love working together.”
They agreed that part of their life’s mission is to pass on the rich sounds of jazz across the country. Their latest mini tour started in Corpus Christi, Texas.
“We love performing and it’s always special to see a new audience that sees us for the first time,” Franzel said. “Of course, I’m sure there will be people who saw me 34 years ago too.”
Wilson’s latest album “Countrypolitan Duets,” creates a mix of country, jazz and pop to form a fresh sound that pays homage to Nashville’s musical roots. Wilson has reworked such classics as Patsy Cline’s “Walkin’ After Midnight,” and Ray Price’s “You’re The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me,” on her album.
Wilson is an accomplished songwriter too. She is an American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers award-winning songwriter who co-authored “All I Ever Wanted,” by Chuck Wicks. She was written songs for Reba McIntire, Brooks & Dunn and Lee Ann Womack.
Les Brown and the Band of Renown performed with Bob Hope on radio, stage and television for more than 50 years. They did 18 USO Tours for American troops around the world, and entertained more than three million people. The Bob Hope Christmas Specials were the highest-rated programs in television history until the Super Bowls. Tony Bennett was “discovered” by Bob Hope and did his first public performance with Brown and the Band.
Les Brown, Sr. and the Band of Renown are a big band that began in the late 1930s. They started as Les Brown and His Blue Devils at Duke University. The band performs under the direction of his son, Les Brown, Jr.