Giving Back During the Holidays Is a Tradition for Mathes
By Paul Silverfarb
It’s an event that never gets old for Greenwich native and award-winner Rob Mathes.
Every holiday season for the past quarter-century, Mathes has kicked up the holiday season a notch with some festive, rocking concerts that bring a smile to the Greenwich community and surrounding areas.
This year, Mathes, along with legendary saxophonist David Sanborn and iconic singers Sting and Vanessa Williams, will rock the annual holiday concert in grand fashion. On December 14 and 15, Mathes’ Holiday Concert will take place at The Performing Arts Center at Purchase College. The festivities get underway at 8 p.m. for both shows.
A day later, it’s off to the Schimmel Center at Pace University for the final holiday concert. Sunday’s event will kick off at 4 p.m.
“Singing at his annual holiday show in Purchase is a tradition that I cherish,” said Williams.
At the concert, Mathes and his band will play the big songs people have come to love and Mathes considers to be the greatest hits over the past 25 years. William The Angel, When The Baby Grew up, the Bob Dylan arrangements and other funkified carols will be front and center.
It’s a safe bet that coordinating all the talent has been challenging for Mathes. However, it’s easy to see that it’s a labor of love.
“The fact that these stars will be with me is rather stunning,” Mathes said. “I work with these people and they are family of sorts, but they are also insanely busy and don’t have time to do this. That they are doing it is a gift to the people that come to this show every year and a huge gift to me. To say I’m humbled is a gross understatement.”
Mathes said that putting this concert together is like being an air traffic controller at JFK. Mathes has a big horn section that plays plenty of swing, as well as rock. With the concert, Mathes added a baritone saxophone to give his now seven-piece big band a more robust sound. Throw into the mix a 40-piece gospel choir that includes Cindy Mizelle, from Bruce Springsteen’s band.
“And then…Vanessa Williams, David Sanborn and Sting? Well, I will do my best and hopefully our community will receive a blessing,” Mathes said.
For Mathes, with all the talent at the holiday concert, it’s nearly impossible to pick his favorite part of the upcoming show.
“David, Vanessa and Sting will each come and perform a few things with my band and bless us all,” Mathes said. “I am just excited to play with those miraculous musicians and people again. Favorite part? There is no favorite part. I love the whole event. Setting it up is crazy intense but once I start playing, I am in a trance. The gift of these people being with us will be transforming.”
It’s all about giving back to the community that Mathes used to call home and still loves. His father was a band teacher in Greenwich while his mother was a piano teacher in town who taught 50 students a week. Needless to say, music was in his life growing up.
“I was surrounded by music,” Mathes said. “I had a pretty wonderful childhood in this place and bringing the concert every year to The Performing Arts Center at Purchase College and The Schimmel Center in NYC, and seeing old friends rocking the holiday spirit, is just the sweetest time of the year for me. I love it.”
Both Williams and Sting have a special connection to Mathes. None more important than Williams, who Mathes said gave him the break that led to anything good that has happened to him by recording two of his songs on her best-selling record Star Bright. In addition, Williams asked Mathes to arrange over half that record. Since that record, Mathes produced three more records for Williams.
“Rob Mathes is the consummate composer, arranger and heartfelt artist,” Williams said. “Working with Rob for the last 20 years has been a joy.”
Mathes, who grew up on The Police and Sting’s solo albums, said that Sting has been the major musical presence in his life since 2010. Both Mathes and Sting worked together on Sting’s musical “The Last Ship.” He said that the award-winning artist is a voracious reader and writer; a ferocious talent, presence and voice; and a true genius lyricist and musician.
“I have learned so much and seen so much with him,” Mathes said. “The one thing people wouldn’t initially assume with such a huge star is how remarkably kind and giving he is, hence his presence for this 25th anniversary holiday concert. When he walks in the room, the room changes for the better, and he carries the light.”
Working with an icon saxophonist like Sanborn is icing on the cake for Mathes. The Greenwich native believes that if Sam Cooke, Ottis Redding and Janis Joplin played the alto saxophone, Sanborn is who they would sound like.
“If you hear an alto sax player today, you can’t help but hear David’s influence,” Mathes said. In the 20th century, to my mind, there are four alto sax giants: Charlie Parker of course, but then Phil Woods, Paul Desmond and David Sanborn. That said, the most ubiquitous sound in alto sax history is David’s. He is one of those people, a rare thing, who takes the instrument and completely transforms it. A literally instrumental music legend.”
And, this isn’t the first time the trio of Sting, Williams and Mathes have played in the same venue. Mathes said that back in Feb. 4, 1984, while starting his life as a studio musician living with his parents in Old Greenwich, he attended The Police’s Synchronicity Tour concert at the Carrier Dome. Williams, who attended Syracuse University, was also in attendance to enjoy the concert Sting was a key part of.
“It’s a small world,” joked Mathes.