Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Jazz Nativity

Merry Christmas (belatedly) from J.B. Spins. There was some great Christmas jazz to be heard in New York this year. This year Birdland featured the Jazz Nativity: Bending Towards the Light, Anne Phillips’s jazz Christmas pageant that has grown out of a fundraiser for St. Peters into a swinging holiday tradition.

Each year features this different jazz kings. This year’s included trombonist Benny Powell, of Count Basie and Randy Weston fame, and in an inspiring development, has become a leader in his own right in recent years. The other Kings were flutist Dave Valentin, former musical director for Tito Puente and tap-dancer Max Pollak. The real surprise Christmas Eve was the unannounced appearance of one of the former kings, Paquito D’Rivera, who with clarinet in hand, definitely came to jam, and brought the house down.

The music, some of which was originally penned by Dave and Iola Brubeck, was fantastic. Bob Kindred, the music director, is an under-recorded giant of the tenor sax, whose strong but gentle tone is perfectly matched for the material. The great Candido did indeed show why he is a legend on the conga drums. Arturo O’Farrill also joined the band as an announced guest. As he said during his regular Sunday night set with the Chico O’Farrill Jazz Orchestra following the Nativity on Christmas Eve: “if you missed the Jazz Nativity tonight, don’t ever do that again.” Presumably there are 363 shopping days until the next performance. If you’re still in the Christmas spirit, you can check out clips
here (and try not to wince when you see Donna Hanover introduced as the First Lady of New York.)

If you couldn’t make it to Birdland, maybe you checked out St. Peter’s jazz service, the place where it all started. I’m sure Ike and friends put on a great show. Jazz has that thing that’s hard to define: soul. It’s joyous music—perfect for celebrating Christmas. Whether its Duke Pearson’s Merry Olde Soul or Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas, some of the best Christmas albums are from jazz artists. I hope you all had a swinging Christmas.