Concert Review of CJO's A Perfectly Frank Christmas 2012

The Calgary Jazz Orchestra performed a sold-out concert at River Park Church in Calgary, Alberta on Sunday, December 23, 2012. From “You Don't Know Me” to “Frosty the Snowman”, the CJO presented varied palette of big band jazz, Frank Sinatra standards and Christmas favourites. The warm up act for this Christmas show was the University of Calgary Jazz Orchestra, directed by Dr. Jeremy Brown. The jazz group performed Fred Sturm's arrangement of Radiohead's “Bodysnatchers”, Bobby Watson's “Fuller Love” (Arr. Dan Keberle) and Jerry Nowak's “Frosty the Snowman”.

Christmas Classics and Sinatra Standards at CJO's Christmas Concert

The emcee for the 2012 edition of “A Perfectly Frank Christmas” was CJO bassist Kodi Hutchinson. In addition to playing for various ensembles, Kodi is the host of “A Time for Jazz” on CKUA Radio.

The jazz band performed seven songs in the first set: “O Tanenbaum”, Harry Connick Jr.'s “It Must've Been Old Santa Claus”, Cole Porter's “I've Got You Under My Skin”, Frank Loesser's “Baby It's Cold Outside”, Jay Livingson & Ray Evans' “Silver Bells”, Jerry Herman's “We Need a Little Christmas”, Eddy Arnold & Cindy Walker's “You Don't Know Me” and Jule Styne & Sammy Cahn's “The Christmas Waltz”.

One highlight was Desiree Arthur's and Johnny Summers singing “Baby It's Cold Outside”. Their voices blended together very well, weaving and soaring. Dr. Jeremy Brown on sax and Al Muirhead on trumpet, danced and intertwined during the interlude. Desiree is from New West Symphony & Chorus.

CJO

Another focal point was crowd favourite, Hazel Proctor. The 2007 Senior Star Competition Winner simply shone with “Silver Bells”. Her rich, warm tone drew cheers and whistles throughout her performance. Egor Ukoloff's piano solo traversed the keyboard with crunchy chords and sparkly runs. Al's trumpet solo started with a simple melody which became more embellished with each pass, while Dean Yeat's trombone solo created waves that started gently but grew in intensity.

“You Don't Know Me” gave the audience a preview of Johnny's upcoming jazz CD release, entitled “Piano Sessions”. A very soulful, intimate mood was set by his vocals and the rhythm section. This was soon followed by the saxophones playing a slow gospel riff against runs up and down the piano.

Egor's solo created a myriad of colours. He began with easygoing chords played against a dancing melodic line. Chords, shakes and glissandos helped to build the intensity. This number showcased Johnny's wide dynamic and vocal range – from soft and intimate to powerful and impassioned.

The CJO closed with a “The Christmas Waltz”, which opened with the saxes before leading into Johnny on vocals with the rhythm section. The muted trumpets gave way to arpeggiated chords in the piano. Shane Statz's sax solo set an easygoing pace, weaving a meandering line before the ensemble swelled to a fortissimo, followed by silence. Kodi and Johnny led the Waltz's transition to a faster tempo. The changes in the texture made this an enjoyable arrangement to listen to.

Heebee-Jeebees, Toe Tappin' Swing and More Christmas Hits Performed by the CJO

The Heebee Jeebees, a Calgary-based a cappella group, opened up the second set of The Calgary Jazz Orchestra's “A Perfectly 'Frank' Christmas”. The group opened with an upbeat version “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”.

The CARA Award winning quartet continued with a Flintstones inspired rendition of “Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree”. Johnny Summers joined the quartet in singing “I Pray on Christmas” as Egor Ukoloff played along to this medium gospel number.

The Calgary Jazz Orchestra performed five songs in the second set, including Harry Connick Jr.'s “Frosty the Snowman” and “Song for the Hopeful”. This was followed by Sammy Cahn's “Come Fly with Me”, Hugh Martin's “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and Jack Fox's “Zat You, Santa Claus?” Desiree Arthur returned to the stage for “Song for the Hopeful” while Toe Tappin' Swing moved fluidly along the floor in time to “Come Fly with Me”.

One highlight was Al Muirhead's arrangement of “Frosty”. Greg Baker laid down a fast Latin groove on the drums, accented by “squeals” from Johnny's trumpet, which soon gave way to his vocals. Dean Yeats played a really funky countermelody against Johnny's embellished solo. The entire jazz orchestra joined in to chant “Thumpity-thump-thump”.

Another fun number was “Come Fly with Me”. The entire ensemble cast a playful and nostalgic mood with this medium swing number. Matthew Isenor and Robin Nunnally of Toe Tappin' Swing cut the rug with their nimble footwork and twirls.

Before the final number, the audience learned about “Call a Tune”, which members of the CJO sometimes play at the end of a gig. One musician calls out a tune. They choose a key and a tempo, then everyone present plays or sings along. This led to impromptu performances of “Happy Birthday”, “Jingle Bells” and “White Christmas” involving the audience.

CJO

The Calgary Jazz Orchestra closed with “Zat You, Santa Claus?” This medium swing tune showcased catchy lyrics. It featured Johnny Summers on vocals and trumpet, Brian Walley on trombone and Kodi Hutchinson on bass.

The Calgary Jazz Orchestra received a standing ovation, complete with cheers, whistles and shouts for an encore. The CJO complied, performing “O Holy Night”.

The next CJO performance is on February 23, 2013 at 18 Degrees of Jazz Gala for Big Brothers & Big Sisters. For more information on the Calgary Jazz Orchestra, visit the CJO's website. Tickets may be purchased online or in person at Anacrusis Music.

The Calgary Jazz Orchestra performed to a packed house on Sunday, December 23, 2012 at River Park Church in Calgary. Big band arrangements were done by Al Muirhead, Paul Ashwell, Greg Baker and Johnny Summers. Guests included the UofC Jazz Orchestra, Desiree Arthur, Hazel Proctor, the Heebee Jeebees and Toe Tappin' Swing.

This Christmas show, packed with stock Sinatra songs and Christmas music, was extremely entertaining, diverse and well played. Most, if not all members of the audience, were singing, tapping and cheering for more.