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TGZ Band is a high energy rock/jazz/blues ensemble of stellar, hand picked musicians based in Virginia Beach, VA

The guys in the TGZ Band were all young men cutting their teeth in the world of pop and rock in 1977, the year "Aja" came out.

The Steely Dan masterstroke, featuring radio mainstays such as "Peg" and "Deacon Blues," fused elements of jazz, rock and pop that few recording artists have matched since then. Such a sophisticated blending of styles was nothing new in 1977, when pop bands often braided disparate genres.

But nearly 40 years later, when spirited and elegant improvisation is seldom, if ever, heard on mainstream radio, the TGZ Band is a keeper of the flame, so to speak.

The 14-piece unit will headline tonight at the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts in Virginia Beach, sharing the bill with '70s pop-rock band Ambrosia.

" 'Aja' is as hip as music can get," says guitarist Ed Zinner, a founding member and the "Z" in TGZ Band. "There were great solos, great vocals, great changes. That's the formula we've been trying to find. I think we're there."

The group's debut, "Living Dangerously," appeared in 2006 and was a pop buffet of styles, from blues to salsa. On the upcoming follow-up, "Time to Begin," TGZ has streamlined its eclecticism, using "Aja" as something of a model.

"There's a synergy here. Everybody is not just into the project but into the music," says Zinner, calling from his home in Virginia Beach. "You can hear the different influences. It's all there."

The TGZ band was founded about six years ago by Zinner; Dan Toler, a guitarist with Dickey Betts & Great Southern and, later, the Gregg Allman Band; and jazz keyboardist Ron Gary. Other core members include bassist Avon Lucas, vocalist and keyboardist Johnny Townsend, drummer John McKnight and vocalist Tony Green. Personnel has shuffled over the years. Toler died in 2013 as the band was just beginning the new album, and Gary is awaiting a liver transplant.

TGZ boasts a four-piece horn section. Some members are alums of the Allman Brothers; most are veterans of the road and the studio. TGZ is an independent group - and a fragmented one. Members are spread out all over the country, including Georgia, Massachusetts and Maryland.

"I don't think being an independent hurts us in any way," says Townsend from Los Angeles. "One advantage a major label gives is funding your project. TGZ doesn't need that. Thanks to Ed, the band is self-financing. And because the band is self-financing, we can generally call our shots during the exposure facet of our game plan. We can pair ourselves with compatible groups, therefore possibly bringing the companion group's audience along with us."

Tonight's show at the Sandler is an example. Ambrosia scored memorable hits in the late '70s and early '80s on the mighty Warner Bros. label, including "How Much I Feel" and "Biggest Part of Me." Those gold sellers, still heard on classic rock stations these days, established a large and loyal audience for the band. Fans going to hear those Ambrosia classics will also feel transported to the late '70s with TGZ. The guys adhere to the cosmopolitan side of pop-rock that saturated mainstream radio back then, with a refined mix of R&B horns a la Tower of Power, blues guitar and jazz-inflected chord changes.

The new album was recorded at Master Sound in Virginia Beach. Zinner and Townsend oversaw most of the arrangements.

"I've been fortunate to write or co-write seven of the songs on the new TGZ Band CD," Townsend says. "I usually bring in my basic piano arrangement, melody and lyrics when I present them to the band. I do have a good deal of input into the songs I bring to the table, and occasionally I'll put on my producer hat and suggest things on other songs."

The albums, sold online and at concerts, capture the essence of what TGZ is about. The real music comes alive onstage.

"We try to make the songs interesting enough that music people will listen and people who listen to the radio would listen," Zinner says.

But it depends which station they're listening to. Such vibrant, improvisational sounds have been absent from mainstream pop radio since the days when "Aja" first dropped on vinyl and eight-track.

"There is a wealth of talent and experience in this group," Townsend says, "so much so that you'd have to be nuts not to keep an open mind at all times."

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