ANAHEIM, California -- Along with selling millions of his own records every year, Elton John likes to champion a few of his favorite up-and-comers and help expose their music to the masses.
Three of his 2002 projects, Best New Artist Grammy nominees John Mayer, Norah Jones and Vanessa Carlton, joined past favorites like Nikka Costa and Rufus Wainwright in repaying John by singing his classics in a tribute concert Friday.
The event, a benefit for music education sponsored by Yamaha as part of the 2003 International Music Products Association winter conference, also featured some of John's influences, ranging from Brian Wilson to Ray Charles, entertaining a near-capacity crowd at the Arrowhead Pond.
Fifteen artists performed John numbers before the man of the hour (three, actually) took the stage for his own show, which mixed hits from 2001's Songs From the West Coast with classics like "The Bitch Is Back" and "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues."
Of all the acts on the bill, Mayer was the sole performer who actually got to duet with John, sharing verses on a moving version of "Sacrifice" (which John introduced as his first #1 single) midway through the English legend's set.
Jones' appearance also stood out, as she was the only artist whose own band joined her, for a jazzy take on "Tiny Dancer" with an extended guitar solo. That's not to say John's band, including longtime drummer Nigel Olsson and guitarist Davey Johnstone, weren't consistently impressive throughout the night.
Carlton chose the newer "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" for her tribute, and although the singing was shaky at times, she entertained the older audience by leaving the piano midway through and dancing energetically around the stage.
"Will & Grace" star Eric McCormack hosted the event, sharing comical stories of his childhood fascination with John and delivering one-liners. "I need to inform you of some last-minute cancellations," he said at one point. "Winona Ryder won't be singing 'Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word' after all."
McCormack even sang "Captain Fantastic," shocking the crowd with his solid voice.
Other highlights included Jewel's twangy rendition of "Your Song," Brian McKnight's spot-on "Rocket Man" and Charles' touching "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word."
After Yamaha president Terry Lewis presented John with the Lifetime Achievement in Musical Excellence Award, all of the evening's performers took the stage, along with Elvis Costello, to squeal the "wah, wah wah wah wah wah" chorus of the finale, "Crocodile Rock."