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Sting, Vanessa Williams join lineup at Rob Mathes’ holiday concerts

November 15, 2018

GREENWICH — Famed Greenwich musician Rob Mathes will have some special gifts for the audiences at his annual holiday concerts — courtesy of his famous friends.

Mathes’ concerts will take place Dec. 14 and Dec. 15 at Purchase College and Dec. 16 at the Schimmel Center in New York City. And this year, as Mathes marks 25 years of his holiday musical celebration, he will be joined by musical legends Sting, Vanessa Williams and saxophonist David Sanborn.

All three will perform in multiple songs with Mathes and his band as part of the concert.

“This concert has been a consistent joy and a consistent bringer of good news musically to my life, with the extraordinary musicians that play with me every year, the old friends that sing in my choir led by cousin Dianne Ellis, who teaches at Greenwich Academy,” Mathes said. “It is just a hoot and a holler. To add the three guest stars to that? Well, I guess it’s Christmas and Hannukah for me all at the same time.”

A Greenwich resident with an Emmy win to his name along with Grammy, Tony and Drama Desk nominations, Mathes is regarded as a top talent both as a performer and behind the scenes. He has collaborated with some of the biggest names in the industry, from Bruce Springsteen to Yo-Yo Ma. His work for them has been like a “musical gardener,” Mathes said.

But Mathes shines as a performer in his annual holiday concerts, and he is happy to bring such legendary names to his hometown audience.

“I am so proud and humbled at the same time that these people are coming,” he said. “Vanessa has been a champion for a while and is family. She is as much a part of that event as anybody and has blessed the audience of that concert with a few appearances over the past 10 years. Sanborn has not been with us since 1997 and is easily the most prominent and important alto saxophonist since Phil Woods and Charlie Parker. He will blow everyone away with his mastery.”

It was the eagerness of Sting, whom Mathes has produced the last three albums for and orchestrated his recent Broadway show “The Last Ship,” to participate that came as a surprise.

“To have Sting there is kind of crazy,” Mathes said. “Sanborn and Vanessa are quite a blessing just alone. Sting was unexpected. I still can’t quite believe he is coming. He will bring his acoustic guitar and play a few songs for this long faithful audience. It is a gift to all of us, and I honestly don’t know how I could possibly pay it back.

“He is a giant in rock history (with) 16 Grammys later and a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. It is nuts that he is playing the Rob Mathes Holiday Concert. It’s just fricking crazy.”

Sting offered a statement of support for his longtime collaborator.

“Rob is an extraordinary musician and piano player, a guitar player, an arranger with an incredible knowledge of music, and a deep understanding of my music,” Sting said. “He puts himself completely at the service of music, no ego at all.”

Mathes aims to unite everyone behind a joyful message at his concerts. They will include beloved Christmas and holiday classics along with original songs in a combination of rock, jazz and blues. And it is a big treat to perform at home, he said, after a lot of work through the year.

Mathes is working on a new album with Train and recently arranged and orchestrated the new hit album from “Panic at the Disco!” He also did the orchestration and collaborated closely with the songwriters for last year’s hit movie musical “The Greatest Showman.”

The concerts are a chance to get on stage and perform with the band he has collaborated with for years. And every year, Mathes said he throws himself into the concert. He aims high — following a musical standard he learned from his father, George Mathes, who has been honored as a Greenwich Distinguished Teacher and has led school bands at Old Greenwich, Riverside, North Mianus and the International School at Dundee.

Tickets can be purchased for the Purchase College shows, which will be at 8 p.m., by visiting www.artscenter.org or calling 914-251-6200. Tickets for The Schimmel Center show, set for 4 p.m., can be purchased at www.schimmelcenter.org or 212-346-1715.

The concerts will benefit the nonprofit photo project Through The Eyes of Children, a project in which children in a Rwanda orphanage explore their community and country through photography. (For more information, visit http://rwandaproject.org.)

At the concerts, Mathes will be backed by “all-star band choir” that he says is made up of “saints and friends.” The musicians, who have played on “Saturday Night Live” and in the Rolling Stones’ touring band, includes Will Lee on bass, Billy Masters on guitar, Joe Bonadio and Shawn Pelton on percussion, Rick Knutsen on keyboards, Jeff Kievit and Don Harris on trumpet, Andy Snitzer on tenor sax, Aaron Heick on alto sax, Mike Davis on trombone and Jeff Nelson on bass trombone.

Additionally, James “D Train” Williams and Cindy Mizelle will be joining Mathes on vocals. Mathes said he can’t wait to perform with the band and the vocalists, adding that Williams “tears down the house every year” and praised Mizelle as a “great soul singer” who has toured with Springsteen.

“It is a celebration,” Mathes said. “We are not reinventing anything this year. We are celebrating and having these three wonderful people bless us.”

kborsuk@greenwichtime.com

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