The end of 2015 is nearing. People have a variety of ways they can spend their last few hours of the year. They can stay home and watch “The Twilight Zone” marathon or Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin make playful banter until the ball drops, or they can go to the Empress Theatre in Vallejo and have a very funky New Year’s Eve.
Empress Theatre will be presenting its New Year’s Eve Party with the Mic Gillette Band. Gillette was a founding member of Tower of Power, an Oakland-based funk/soul/jazz/rock group who had several charting R&B singles throughout the ‘70s. Gillette played brass for the group but left in 1984 to focus on raising his daughter Megan. He also was a member of numerous other bands, including Cold Blood, Sons of Champlin and a brief stint with Blood, Sweat & Tears. His resume as a session musician extends even beyond that, having recorded with acts including The Rolling Stones, Elton John, Santana, Heart, Rod Stewart, Sheryl Crow, The Doobie Brothers, Huey Lewis and the News and more.
“I’ve been performing since I was 5 years old,” Gillette said. “I was given a gift from my father of musical expression, and I’ve just followed it all my life.”
Gillette also is known for his philanthropy. He founded the Music in the Schools program to keep music programs alive in schools across the country. He does so by touring America and performing with schools’ jazz bands, sometimes by bringing in other professional performers.
“I’ve been very active in helping students get scholarships to colleges,” he said. “There’s so much money available out there for kids who will apply themselves and spend a couple of years working on recording stuff. I can help them audition, and I can provide recommendations for some of the best music schools in the country.”
Gillette currently leads the Mic Gillette Band, which features two Benicia residents- Jason Stewart on guitar and Andres Soto on saxophone- and daughter Megan Gillette McCarthy serving as vocalist and percussionist as well as the band’s manager. The group has put out two albums and performed songs by Tower of Power as well as other bands Gillette has performed with and numerous originals.
“I’ve been blessed enough to play with many big name bands and artists all over the world for many, many years, and this is my favorite band I’ve ever played with,” Gillette said. “It’s just an amazing group of musicians, and I’m actually doing a little bit of singing but only as a background vocalist.”
The idea to perform the Empress’ New Year’s Eve show came from Stewart, who knows Empress manager Don Bassey.
“He said ‘Have Mic call me. We’d love to have him up here for New Year’s,” Gillette said. “I called, the ball got rolling and here we are.”
The group will be performing a variety of original compositions as well as songs by acts Gillette has performed with.
“I’ve got stories to go along with some of the songs,” he said. “We consider ourselves to be a dance band. People love to get up and dance when we play, so that’s why New Year’s Eve is gonna work.”
The doors for the Empress Theatre’s New Year’s Eve Party will open at 8 p.m. with the show beginning at 9 on Thursday, Dec. 31. The Empress Theatre is located at 330 Virginia St. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at TicketFly.com. For more information, contact the Empress at 552-2400.
Photo courtesy of The Empress Theatre