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Steph Johnson Trio fills theater with funk and soul

Palomar’s Performing Arts department consistently puts on Concert Hour performances for Palomar students and others who simply love music to enjoy. The Steph Johnson Trio can be added to that list of those great performances.

On April 16, The Steph Johnson Trio electrified the stage at Palomar’s Howard Brubeck Theatre with a captivating soulful jazz performance. Making up this Trio is Steph Johnson, the vocals and guitarist of the group, Rob Thorsen, who mans the upright bass and the young Fernando Gomez, who dominates the drums. This trio is a down right a harmonious masterpiece full of soul, jazz and funk that is insanely fun to watch.

Ellen Weller, Palomar music professor, introduced the trio to the audience and fervently explained her praises for the group. Even stating that the lead vocalist, Steph Johnson, “had a ear for music unlike any other she had seen before.” This introduction left us all intrigued for the sensory indulgence our ears were about to go through.

The trio started with a bang, performing Thelonious Monk’s, “Straight, No Chaser.” Johnson and Thorsen had an amazing chemistry between one another that only elevated this song and let’s not forget to mention drummer, Fernando Gomez, his drum solo that left the audience clapping for more, from an upbeat Monk funk to melodic oceanic tune by Chico Pinhiero.

Pinhiero’s “Tempestade,” really displayed Thorsen’s skill on the upright bass. The smooth tune with a Latin flare was mesmerizing. Almost as captivating as the fact that Johnson sang the entire song in Portuguese while killing it on the guitar. The gradual rise from a relaxing tone to upbeat jazz, highlighting bass and percussion, really highlighted the entire groups talents.

Steph Johnson Trio in performance in the Howard Brubeck Theater on April 16. Amber Rosario/The Telescope
Steph Johnson Trio in performance in the Howard Brubeck Theater on April 16. Amber Rosario/The Telescope

The Southern California group plays effortlessly together, which as a viewer was perfect because it allowed the audience to take the group in as a whole. No specific individual’s talent drowned out the others.

Throughout the entire performance Johnson’s captivating spirit as a performer was undeniable. Whether it was an original piece or a cover, she left every ounce of herself in each song. “ It was really interesting how she (Johnson) captured the audience, it was special.” Keyry Diaz, a Palomar student, said after the show.

After a couple of standards Johnson prefaced an original piece titled, “The Big Life,” by explaining to the audience that she wishes someone told her to just do what she loved from the start. In a bold move, Johnson left her job in banking to pursue music full time. This inspired the song, “The Big Life,” and it became obvious it held a deep meaning for Johnson as she sway from side to side on the stage belting out the big lyrics of the soulful tune.

Standard after standard delivered emotion as well as the previous one. The culmination of the performance came however when the trio performed their original standard, “Happy People.” While fighting back her emotions, Johnson shared that her mother was not doing well so this song would be especially important to her. The rest of the trio gave her encouragement as the song began to fill the room.

The slower melody and haunting lyrics were a juxtaposition to the title of the song, yet the song felt like an inclusion in Johnson’s deepest feelings. The guitar, the bass and the drums all captured the essence of the song so well.

A couple seconds into the entire performance and it was no secret the talent this trio holds. Each member performed with their whole being and it was entrancing. Musicians like the Steph Johnson Trio are important to see. They bring an organic prowess to jazz that is often unheard through their performance that feel so personal.

Image Sources

  • A&E.Concert Hour_Steph Johnson Triocopy: Amber Rosario/The Telescope | All Rights Reserved
  • A&E.Concert Hour_Steph Johnson Trio_smcopy: Amber Rosario/The Telescope | All Rights Reserved
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