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Frank McComb remembers R&B great Donny Hathaway

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Frank McComb/COURTESY PHOTO

He’s a jazz and R&B artist who has also worked with hip-hop heavyweights. Frank McComb’s résumé includes session musician for Philadelphia soul pioneers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff as well as lead vocalist and keyboardist in Branford Marsalis’ critically-acclaimed, jazz-rap fusion project Buckshot LeFonque. Oh, yeah, McComb also backed DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince.

“That was very different than anything I had done,” McComb says, laughing, by phone from his Los Angeles home. “But Jeff (Townes) and Will (Smith) were very musical rappers. Jeff approached turntables like instruments.”

McComb’s solo career has included stints with Motown and Columbia Records. An independent artist for the past decade, McComb’s latest album, “Remembering Donny Hathaway (Live At the Bitter End),” might do the best job yet of showcasing the 43-year-old’s talents as a singer, keyboardist and songwriter.

“There were no motives, nothing scandalous about wanting to make this album,” McComb says. “I just wanted to keep the man’s legacy alive.”

When McComb performs Friday at The Blue Rooster near downtown Sarasota attendees can expect the gifted musician to spend as much time concentrating on the keyboards as he will singing. There will be covers and originals. There will be homages to heroes and friends such as Stevie Wonder, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock “and especially Donny,” McComb says.

Frank McComb album coverOne of the most versatile and soulful R&B singers of his generation and a solid pianist, Donny Hathaway has largely been forgotten since his untimely death in 1979 at age 33. Another amazing singer who died far too young, Amy Winehouse, lovingly mentions “Mr. Hathaway” in her 2006 hit “Rehab.” But other than that, not much love in recent years for Hathaway from the mainstream.

“He really doesn’t get the respect he deserves,” McComb says.

Hathaway's biggest hits include his 1970s duets with Roberta Flack, most notably “Where Is the Love,” “You’ve Got a Friend” and “The Closer I Get to You.” But for many aficionados of R&B, soul and jazz, Hathaway’s 1972 concert album, simply titled “Live,” remains his greatest achievement. Side one was reportedly culled from performances at The Troubadour in Hollywood while side two was recorded at The Bitter End in New York.

McComb’s friend and mentor George Benson was at the Bitter End the night Hathaway recorded what would become side two of “Live.” The multiple Grammy Award-winning jazz guitarist and singer suggested McComb record his tribute there. But Benson said to play solo instead of with backing musicians, which Hathaway used.

“This is the time and place to do a tribute to Donny,” McComb recalls Benson telling him. “All the signs were there.”

In addition to material from the landmark 1972 “Live” album, McComb’s stirring “Remembering Donny Hathaway” disc includes an original, his paean “We’ll Carry Your Name On.” McComb wrote the song in the early 1990s while employed by Gamble and Huff and the he had just been sitting on the gem for the past couple decades.

“It was in the can, I didn’t finish the whole thing,” McComb says. “I finally found the right time to bring it out.”

Frank McComb
9 p.m. Friday; The Blue Rooster, 1525 4th St., Sarasota; $20 (general admission with limited seating or standing), $60 (reserved table for two) $120 (reserved table for four); 388-7539; blueroostersrq.com.

Frank McComb
9 p.m. Friday; The Blue Rooster, 1525 4th St., Sarasota; $20 (general admission with limited seating or standing), $60 (reserved table for two) $120 (reserved table for four); 388-7539; blueroostersrq.com.

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WADE TATANGELO is the editor of TICKET + and a contributor at TicketSarasota.com. He has been an entertainment editor, reporter, columnist and reviewer for more than a decade at publications nationwide. He is a Hershey, Pa., native who grew up in Tampa and graduated from the University of South Florida. Wade joined the Herald-Tribune in 2013. He can be reached by email or call (941) 361-4955.
Last modified: June 20, 2014
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