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Robbie Cunningham, James 'Saxsmo' Gates Jr. to perform in Richmond: 'It's gonna be a good show'

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Posted at 6:57 PM, May 19, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-19 20:01:52-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Nationally recognized jazz musicians are set to headline performances at the Tin Pan in Richmond this Saturday and next.

Robbie Cunningham and Vivian Taylor will perform a tribute to music legends Phyllis Hyman and Al Jarreau on May 20. Local favorite James “Saxsmo” Gates will take center stage at the Tin Pan on May 27.

Cunningham and Gates are frequent collaborators, working together most recently on "Saxsmo’s" fifth record, “Stepping Out.”

“The reason why I call it stepping out is because as you start to grow, and you start to be able to go and reach those other plateaus, well it comes a particular point that you really got to step out and do other things on another level,” Gates tells CBS 6’s Antionette Essa.

Gates has music in his blood with parents who traveled as performing artists.

The budding Berklee College of Music student was left mesmerized one evening in the 1970s. He waited in the snow outside Boston Symphony Hall to see the "First Lady of Song" Ella Fitzgerald. Years later Gates would serve as the music director for "Forever Ella,” a musical about Ella Fitzgerald written and produced by Jazz singer Desiree Roots.

Cunningham too got an early start, playing drums on his mother's kitchen table, and later in church.

“I started singing in the children's choir, and then things just steamrolled from there,” said Cunningham.

Cunningham released his first recording as “Robbie Mychals,” in the 1990s before founding Zoe Music Group. Now he’s honored to perform some classics for the Tin Pan’s Al Jarreau tribute.

“I've been loving Al Jarreau since I was in elementary school when I snuck down in the basement and listened to my cousin's albums. That’s how long ago it was,” recalled Cunningham. “It’s gonna be a good show.”

For tickets to either show, visit