They have made a lasting mark on the Omaha music scene and beyond.
Their skills are well known to be at the high end of the talent scale.
Now singer-guitarist Johnny Adams and guitar virtuoso Ron Cooley are at work on another project – or two.
So is their long-term friend, collaborator, and employer – Chip Davis – who has more than a passing interest in what the duo is doing.
That is something called, Adams and Cooley Rat Pack Jazz.
While the name may inspire memories of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop on stage in the 1960s, cracking jokes, enjoying “highballs” and smoking, don’t look for that from this Rat Pack ensemble.
On Thursday, July 25, the Omaha-based and Rat Pack-inspired band Adams and Cooley Rat Pack Jazz will perform at Jazz on the Green. With them will be a lady familiar to Jazz on the Green regulars, Susie Thorne.
“The core unit is also a lot or her main players . . . it fits in perfect,” Cooley assured.
Adams and Cooley have been performing regionally and across the country for more than two decades. Each has worked with Chip Davis and Mannheim Steamroller. For Rat Pack Jazz they are joined by Dennis Strawn on saxophone, Dan Cerveny on keyboards, Andy Hall on bass, and Carlos Figueroa on drums.
Thorne, who calls Omaha home after her traveling around the world as a vocalist, was compared to a young Eartha Kitt when her first CD was released more than a dozen years ago.
Jazz on the Green is the perfect performance venue for her. “She’s sort of our local jazz standard,” Adams said. Count on it to be “cool” in every way, except possibly for the July weather.
Adams and Cooley will make sure of that after playing together as a duo and in larger groups for years. They have performed everything – from Western Swing to Eastern Swing – including their recent Americana project in the group Heartland.
This, however, is something quite different.
“We took the late 40s to the early 50s . . . and took the wonderful swing stuff,” Adams explained.
The project has drawn the attention of Davis, who confirmed the duo is recording a CD at his studio.
“I’m waiting for it to all get done,” he said. “I’m just helping produce some of it . . . I shot some of the cover . . . involved with some of the production stuff.”
The final project will be on Adams and Cooley’s label, and has basically been made to sell at their gigs.
“They’re playing a lot,” Davis said.
To the uninitiated, this music that made its debut decades ago may seem like tame stuff, but those accustomed to the sounds of recent decades need to put on their ears.
Cooley, an acknowledged guitar virtuoso, admits this material is hard to prepare.
“It takes a little more work, I think,” he explained. “More chords and things.”
Lucky 13 is the CD they are producing. The Jazz on the Green performance will serve as a release party for the disc.
“The songs are real classics,” Cooley pointed out. “The Great American Songbook.”
For those wondering, the CD’s song list is: “Just in Time,” “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home,” “Fly Me to the Moon,” “That’s Life,” “Nice & Easy,” “Sway,” “You’re Nobody ’til Somebody Loves You,” “Witchcraft,” “Volare,” “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” “I’ve Got the World on a String,” “There I’ve Said It Again,” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
They do not hesitate to refer to their repertoire as timeless.
“It’s the power of swing music and good lyrics,” Adams said.
Adams and Cooley have appeared in the Omaha area with the new show, but have mostly tested the performance on the road in smaller cities in Nebraska and Iowa.
“We have a great time,” Cooley admitted.
As for the crowds?
“We’ve had a real wide range of appreciation,” Adams said.
The includes college kids, many of whom are hearing the music live for the first time.
“They really enjoyed it,” the duo agreed. “Music from ‘the Golden Era of Song . . . It really has a wide range of appeal.”
Their performances have garnered the attention of Davis, our local Grammy winner.
The Ohio-born Davis, whose local work dates back to the mid-1970s, recalled how he has known Adams and Cooley for more than 30 years, going back to a hit-making outfit that capitalized on the CB radio craze of those times.
“Ron was in the C.W. McCall Band,” Davis said. McCall, for those too young to remember, was a fictional character created by Davis in his advertising days.
Cooley travels with one of the touring Mannheim Steamroller bands and Adams has played in the Macy’s Parade on the float with the group in recent years.
Davis is looking for Rat Pack Jazz to sell the recording at shows and in retail outlets. He likes what he’s heard, including a recent performance at Gorat’s Steak House.
“They’ve got a lot going on . . . they just really sound good.”
Davis has a new musical offering of his own, with the recently minted Music of the Spheres.
“I’m excited about this release,” he exclaimed. “Our first non-Christmas release in about eight years.”
You can expect it to sell, as Davis’s recording have moved more than 50 million copies in the last two decades, making him one of music’s most successful recording acts. That includes the award-winning Fresh Aire series and the largest selling Christmas album of all time.
“Music of the Spheres is really a concept that Johannes Keplar came up with this back in 1609,” Davis explained, referring to the 17th Century German mathematician and astronomer.
Keplar, Davis said, thought the stars replicated the notes on the music staff.
“I thought this was really a neat concept for the album.”
He acknowledges the recording also was created to draw attention to NASA and the space shuttle. The U.S. space program has long held a fascination for Davis. His grandfather, a country doctor, took him out in the country to look at the stars and Davis continues to pursue that interest with a telescope and observatory at his Washington County farm.
In addition, he has a symphonic project in the works and the Ambience Media Project that mixes music with the sounds of nature on which he is working with researchers from the Madonna Rehabilitation Center, Walter Reed Army Hospital and the Mayo Clinic.
“It’s music and sound used for healing,” Davis said. “That’s taking off really, well right now . . . It’s about trying to help people.”
For the moment it is only available in hospitals. Potentially, it could find a use in a home theater, but Davis wanted it rooted into the medical world first where it continues to be studied and developed.
Two Mannheim Steamroller companies will be touring later this year, with an Omaha date booked for Dec. 22. Then there is the ice skating special and Macy’s Parade both on NBC during Thanksgiving weekend.
So, despite being at an age, 66, when many successful people are planning their retirement, that word appears to be missing from Davis’s vocabulary.
“I was thinking about it once,” he quickly said. “I’m busier than I’ve ever been.”
Adams and Cooley Rat Pack Jazz performs 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 25, at Jazz on the Green. Mannheim Steamroller is scheduled to appear at the Orpheum Theater on Dec. 22 at 7 p.m. For more information: www.mannheimsteamroller.com