On paper, it seems like utter madness. Drive up to Palm Springs for the express purpose of seeing Ray Parker Jr. headline an installment of the Grooves jazz series at the Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort & Spa. But roll that around your noggin for a minute. That’s Ray Parker Jr. — the Ray Parker Jr. of “Ghostbusters” fame — performing a jazz-heavy set at a hotel popular with golfers and their families. Madness, yes. But absolutely irresistible and, in retrospect, totally worth it.
The hotel is, without a shadow of a doubt, swankier than 99 percent of the venues that this writer has previously been to for a concert in three decades of shows. From the restaurant and the gym to the rooms, not to mention the little enclosure housing two big tortoises, everything is immaculate.
The Ambassador Ballroom is the precise venue for the gig — a lavish setting a few strides from the buildings containing the rooms. And it’s a people watcher’s paradise — there are clearly very wealthy people dressed up to the nines, and others who wander in wearing cargo shorts and sandals.
The entertainment began with a set by Kevin Toney, the smooth jazz instrumentalist and former member of Washington DC jazz-funk fusion group The Blackbyrds (inspired by trumpeter Donald Byrd and featuring some of his students).
Toney pulled out a couple of Blackbyrds favorites in Palm Springs, including the Grammy-nominated “Walking in Rhythm” (featuring Ray Parker Jr. on guitar). Both Parker Jr. and Toney are former students at Cass Technical High School in their native Detroit, and they’re old friends that have worked together on numerous occasions, so this pairing more than made sense.
Toney concluded his set with “Kings” from 1993’s Lovescape album, one of those songs that you know even if you didn’t know that you knew it. Then he left to take a break, before returning to play keys for his buddy.
Most people only know Ray Parker Jr. because of the Ghostbusters main theme. They might be surprising to learn that the man worked with Motown’s Funk Brothers, played guitar for Stevie Wonder and Barry White, wrote songs for Chaka Khan, The Carpenters, New Edition, The Supremes, The Temptations, The Spinners, Tina Turner and so many more.
We got a career-spanning, if surprisingly short, set which included snippets of the hit “Jack and Jill” from his old band Raydio (“I got in trouble for that one,” he says with a wry smile. “Jack and Jill were brother and sister? They didn’t tell us about that in Detroit.”)
An adept storyteller, Parker Jr. explains that “The Other Woman” was his attempt at being a bad boy after years of playing clean. And, of course, we get “Ghostbusters” — complete with two people dressed in full costume zapping the crowd with silly string. To be completely honest, it felt epic.
“I love that song, it’s my favorite song,” says Parker Jr. “It put both of my kids through college and pays for my wife’s endless shopping sprees.”
Busting does indeed feel good.