Bernie Williams and his All-Star Band played a mix of tightly composed originals and well-known covers to an ecstatic Hudson Valley Paramount Theater crowd on Friday, August 22. Saxophonist Richie Cannata, formerly of the Billy Joel Band, played musical director on stage to an ensemble that included a singer, trumpet player, keys player, bassist, two guitarists, and two drummers. With love pouring from the crowd, Williams sounded at home on stage in Peekskill, alternating between acoustic and electric guitars. Local musician Nick Rael kicked the night off, playing a drummer-backed acoustic set for 40 minutes. After two originals, Rael caught the crowd’s attention with Bob Marley’s “Is This Love.” He showed strong vocals during a cover of Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes,” and original “81 Ford Grenada” induced empathetic chuckles and a choral sing-along from the crowd. Rael closed his set with a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love” which drew plenty of cheers.
Williams led his band on stage to a standing ovation at 8:45 p.m. The Westchester resident opened the night with the title track from his album Moving Forward. The album features 14 tracks and was nominated for “Best Instrumental Album” Latin Grammy award in 2009. During the live track, Williams grooved on his electric guitar. Richie Cannata, who kept a tenor and soprano saxophone nearby all night while also directing the show, pointed for a trumpet solo while Williams picked out smooth jazz scales on the guitar. “It’s great being here near home tonight,” Williams said between songs. “Back in Puero Rico, my mom was an educator for 40 years. She gave [me and my siblings] a well rounded-education and wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer. Well, here I am though.”
Williams told anecdotes and interacted with the crowd throughout the set. He dedicated a slow, catharctic cover of Sting’s “Fragile” to Don Zimmer and thanked Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens for providing the inspiration for “Desvelado” (Spanish for sleepless). “I didn’t have to interact with an audience in my previous career,” Williams joked, “so I’d say this is a lot harder.” “Ritmo de Otoño,” the rhythm of the fall, exhibited Williams’ composition skills at their finest. The tune began with a soprano saxophone solo from Richie Cannata reminiscent of the silky hook in “Baker Street.”
The band kicked into gear for a Latin-jazz fusion that conjured images of its autumnal title. The drummers both played crisp solos and each note from Williams’ guitar was poignant. Richie Cannata dropped to both knees, wagging his saxophone over his head from side to side dramatically. The jam crescendoed, reaching to 97% before dropping back into the original solo from Cannata on the soprano sax. With a final bang, the full band joined back in, earning another standing ovation.
Many pairs of fathers and sons donning Yankees caps and shirts filled the Paramount’s seats while a talented father-son pair shared the stage. After waiting patiently during the first half of the set, Richie’s son Eren Cannata proved he had inherited his father’s musical ability while singing an acoustic-backed cover of “Imagine.” The crowd expelled an audible “ahhhh” of delight when the John Lennon classic was recognized, and many swayed along in their seats. When the band played a cover of Steve Miller’s “Fly Like An Eagle,” Eren showed that he also has his father’s flair for dramatics, dancing across the stage, one moment reaching to the sky, the next pointing to the crowd and igniting a clap-along. He scatted smoothly during “Alphabet Blues” and flashed his wide vocal range during an exuberant cover of Van Morrison’s “Domino.”
As the show progressed, the crowd grew more and more engrossed. Eren Cannata’s energy was contagious and, when guest saxophonist Jay Beckenstein joined the party during “Fly Like An Eagle,” the crowd really “wow’ed.” Beckenstein decided playing one sax at a time was not enough. With an alto sax in his left hand and a soprano in his right, he played the chorus as the band sang along. Another highlight came during the last song of the set when Richie Cannata pointed out everyone for a solo, including a funky slap-down from bassist Gene Perez.
The band left the stage to roaring applause which, after a minute, turned into a “Ber-nie Will-iams” chant. He reciprocated the love with a final acoustic solo with the spotlight on him. While Williams may be better known for the four World Series rings he earned with the New York Yankees, his performance at the Paramount showed he can also enthrall a crowd with a pick and guitar.
Setlist: Moving Forward, Go For It, Desvelado, Ritmo de Otoño, ?, Imagine, Fly Like An Eagle, Fragile, Alphabet Blues, ?
Encore: Domino, Williams acoustic solo