UPJ professor Jeff Webb led concert series at renovated State Theater


Dave Sutor

Photo and caption by Dave Sutor. Local musicians perform Stevie Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life” as the first installment of the Classic Vinyl Concert Series at State Theater of Johnstown on Saturday, Feb. 5, 2022.

Josalyn McMillan, Editor-in-Chief

Growing up in Pittsburgh surrounded by music, Jeff Webb always knew his path in life. He started taking piano lessons as a child and began singing in choirs when he was 10. Now, he plays piano and sings solos in front of hundreds.

“I am a lucky person in the sense that, even at 13, 14, I knew what I wanted to do and was fortunate to run into people along the way who encouraged that,” he said.

Webb said he had teachers in high school and college who encouraged him along his path of music, so by the time he got to college, he had already formulated that he wanted to be a choir director.

Webb attended Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania, where he got his bachelor’s degree in music. He went on to attend Binghamton University in New York for his master’s in choral conducting and graduated in 2001.

Webb discovered the job listing for an Associate Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown (UPJ). He got the job right out of school and has been at UPJ ever since.

According to his UPJ biography, Webb has taught courses in music theory, western art music, critical listening, jazz and popular music, as well as conducting the Pitt-Johnstown choral ensembles.

On top of his work at the university, he served as the artistic director of the Blair Concert Chorale in Altoona, Pa., from 2004-2013, as the director of the Johnstown Symphony Chorus, as well as musical director and accompanist for shows such as “Godspell,” “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Sweeney Todd,” “My Way: A Tribute to Frank Sinatra,” and “Sweet Charity.”

Webb is active as both a guest conductor and vocal clinician, having guest-conducted choirs in Pennsylvania, New York and New Zealand. He’s also had his compositions, such as “Oh! What a Beautiful City!,” performed across the country.

Webb participates in many independent projects as well. Notably, he performs lead vocals and plays keyboard for the music group Jeff Webb and the Delectable Sound.

Eight years ago, the Boulevard Grill asked Webb to play a gig for the grand opening of its new speakeasy room. Webb then put together a small group of musicians to play.

The show went well, and the Boulevard Grill asked them to come back again in three months. The group performed again and has returned frequently. Now, the band is experienced in playing for dances, outdoor festivals, weddings, fundraisers and all kinds of parties or concerts.

The members of the group were “all people who I had come into contact with along the way. The group got together kind of by accident,” Webb said. He had met them all from years of traveling through music circles.

On Feb. 5, Webb performed with 17 local musicians and singers in the first of a Classic Vinyl Concert Series he created. The concert presented the entire two-disc album of Stevie Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life.” Webb said that the series is dedicated to performing acclaimed and influential albums live and is currently planned to occur twice a year.

Webb again found the performers he needed through the music circles in which he’s floated around for years. “We were gonna play this particular album,” he said, “and knowing what was necessary to play that album, I sort of asked people who I thought had the skill set to play that album.” The core of the Classic Vinyl group are also members of Jeff Webb and the Delectable Sound.

The original idea for the concert series came from a Donny Hathaway album that the Delectable Sound plays often. Webb thought that not many people know the album, and “that turned into, ‘Well, what if we actually got together a group of people to play an album live that people actually know.’”

Webb chose the Stevie Wonder album because of the widespread love of his music. Webb figured that even if the audience didn’t know most of the songs on the album, they’d know and love the hits and still be able to enjoy the message of the album.

“The thing that I did not really think about to a degree,” Webb said, “but I have gotten feedback on from people since the concert, was that … that album is made up of a lot of unifying elements. Also, every song on that album, in some way, shape or form talks about love and … trying to bring people together.”

Webb has since received numerous emails and Facebook messages from individuals who felt touched by the message of the music. “I had not really thought about that as being such a timely thing,” he continued, “and yet that was the thing that people really responded to.”

One of the vocalists who was featured in the concert was Webb’s childhood friend, Bruce Harris.

The pair met around fifth or sixth grade when they both sang in the Pittsburgh Boys Choir, which was a touring group that concentrated on classical music.

By chance, they attended the same middle school, Sterrett Classical Academy, where they participated in choir and concerts together. They both went on to attend Schenley High School, where they continued to win many awards for their musical acts.

“We had such a wonderful time singing and performing all over the city and the country as young men,” Harris said.

Having recently moved back to the area, Harris reconnected with Webb, who informed him of the concert series and asked for vocal help on the project.

“Mr. Webb worked extremely hard on this project, as he always does,” Harris said. “Jeff is a born musical leader and always has been; this performance was no different. Always knowledgeable and talented with great vision.

“I would like to send him a special note of thanks, for pulling me off the shelf, dusting off my vocal cords, and as a leader pushing me to excel at what I love – singing and performing.”

The concert, which was held at Johnstown’s historic State Theater, was sold out. Webb expressed that people that couldn’t make it to the first show should join the Classic Vinyl Concert Series Facebook group so they can be made aware of all the happenings with the series.

On Feb. 11, Webb uploaded a video to the State Theater Media YouTube page which announced the next albums in the series.

On Nov. 5, the concert series will present two albums by the Beatles: “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “Abbey Road.” Tickets went on sale Feb. 18 on the State Theater’s website, statetheaterofjohnstown.com.

Coming up over the course of the summer, Jeff Webb and The Delectable Sound are playing shows in Ohiopyle, Venue of Merging Arts of Johnstown, Pa., Glades Pike Winery of Somerset, Pa., and more, which are listed on the group’s website, delectablesound.com.