While I hesitate to use the word “best” when referring to music (as one too often has to swallow and digest that word), I can’t resist observing that the Nebraska Jazz Orchestra opens Christmas Jazz with the best arrangement of “The Little Drummer Boy” I’ve ever heard. It’s by the band’s talented young guitarist, transplanted Vermonter Peter Bouffard, and includes among its background riffs brief quotes from a large number of seasonal classics from “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” and “Frosty the Snowman” to “Deck the Halls” and “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” — he even finds a place for “Auld Lang Syne.” The band, which has logged steady progress under music director/saxophonist Ed Love, is rock–steady throughout this colorful program of well–worn Christmas garments. There are six other engaging charts by Bouffard (including a rockin’ “Good King Wenceslas”), two by Mark Benson (“O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Carol of the Bells”) and one each by Rex Cadwallader (“O Come, All Ye Faithful”) and Dave Sharp (“Sleigh Ride,” set to an uncommon shuffle rhythm). One ingredient the orchestra lacks at this phase in its development is a convincing vocalist; while Annette Murrell does the best she can (on “The Christmas Song,” “O Christmas Tree,” “Silent Night,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”), we’d rather hear the band, which is in superior form on the incendiary “Carol of the Bells” and elsewhere. This is Volume VI in the Nebraska Jazz Orchestra’s recorded musical odyssey; I don’t know what became of Volumes I–III; I have IV–VI. Volume IV is generally unimpressive, on the order of a modestly rehearsed community band. Volume V, which covers the years 1992–96, is far superior, and VI continues along that path. There is more talent in the ranks, the orchestra plays with greater assurance and precision and is undaunted by the inclusion of strenuous charts. It’s never too early to prepare for the holiday season, and the Nebraska Jazz Orchestra’s Christmas Jazz can furnish a sumptuous musical backdrop for any plans one may have in mind.
Track listing: The Little Drummer Boy; The Christmas Song; We Three Kings; O Come, All Ye Faithful; Sleigh Ride; O Christmas Tree; O Little Town of Bethlehem; Carol of the Bells; Good King Wenceslas; Silent Night; Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (54:32).
Tom Cliffton, Dave Sharp, alto, soprano sax; Mark Benson, alto sax; Ed Love, tenor, soprano sax, clarinet; Scott Vicroy, tenor, baritone sax, clarinet; Brian Morrow, tenor sax; Mike Murphy, baritone sax, bass clarinet; Jon Hischke, baritone sax; Dean Haist, Jeff Patton, Bob Krueger, Brad Obbink, Brian Grasmick, Mike Anderson, trumpets; Steve Henderson, Todd Thatcher, Arthur
| Record Label: American Music Corporation
| Style: Big Band
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.