Calgary Jazz Orchestra A Perfectly Frank Christmas 2010 Concert Review

The Calgary Jazz Orchestra's annual Christmas concert is extremely popular.

Calgary music aficionados love Christmas music, Frank Sinatra and the Calgary Jazz Orchestra. Concertgoers lined up outside and around River Park Church in Calgary, Alberta on Sunday, December 19, 2010 for a chance to get tickets to CJO’s sold out jazz concert, "A Perfectly Frank Christmas".

The concert start time was delayed by 15 minutes to ensure that the audience could find seats and get settled. The programme featured big band jazz arrangements of Sinatra classics along with fresh arrangements of popular Christmas songs.

Hazel Proctor and Greg Baker Sparkle in the Opening Set of “A Perfectly Frank Christmas”

The CJO set a relaxed yet festive tone to the evening with Hark! arranged by Paul Ashwell. This moderate swing number featured easygoing solos by Dr. Jeremy Brown (saxophone) and Bob Erlendson (piano).

Director Johnny Summers traded his trumpet in for the microphone for three numbers: Sleigh Bells, I’ve Got You Under My Skin from “Songs for Swingin' Lovers” (1956) and Just the Way You Look Tonight from “Sinatra Sings Days Of Wine And Roses, Moon River, And Other Academy Award Winners” (1964). Sinatra’s music wonderfully showcases Summers’ wide vocal range and warm timbre, especially on the upbeat numbers.

The Calgary Jazz Orchestra welcomed jazz vocalist Hazel Proctor as a guest performer for the evening. Proctor comes from a rich musical heritage that set roots in Alberta in 1910. She has performed at Dixieland jazz festivals throughout Canada and the US. Proctor currently sings with the Dixie Boppers of Calgary, Alberta.

Proctor joined the CJO on two numbers: Please Come Home for Christmas and The Christmas Song. Her down-to-earth nature drew the audience in. Proctor’s rich, earthy tone wowed the audience, often drawing cheers and applause throughout her performance. The Christmas Song marked the first duet that Proctor and Summers have performed live together.

Another performer that elicited the same response was drummer Greg Baker. Summers did a special arrangement of Little Drummer Boy to display Baker’s talents. His playful nature, tempered with technical virtuosity brought the house down. His solos ranged from youthful reminiscings (pounding) to the “drum roll please” groove and from toe-tapping rock to mind-blowing funk.

The Calgary Jazz Orchestra rounded out the first half with two additional numbers. What Child is This? was a fast swing number that ended in an extremely Baroque fashion. It featured solos by Shane Statz (sax), Al Muirhead (trumpet), Carsten Rubeling (trombone) and Bob Erlendson (piano). I’m Walkin’ was a bold, lively number that featured strong solos by Johnny Summers (vocals), Richard Harding (sax), Andrew Wickenheiser (trumpet), Gerry Hebert (sax), Carsten Rubeling and Kodi Hutchinson (bass).

Strong Jazz Solos, Swing Dancers and Comedic Moments Mark the Second Set

The jazz band launched the second set with Ol’ Santa Claus, a quick march-like call and response number. A 3-2 clave pattern wound its way into the drums, keeping it extremely rhythmic and lively.

Silent Night showcased Richard Harding on sax. His improvisation was quite varied and yet always maintained the soulfulness of the original melody. Harding’s final improv was done against an ostinato of the first two bars of the melody, played by the rest of the saxophone section.

Summers invited Matthew Isenor and Nicole Tomes of Toe Tapping Swing to show off their graceful choreography for his next vocal number, Come Fly with Me. Another memorable number was What a Wonderful World in which Baker and Summers exchanged places. Baker surprised the audience with his rousing tribute to Louis Armstrong, successfully imitating Satchmo’s rumbly timbre.

One of the fun things about playing jazz music is being able to put a completely new spin on old classics. Deck the Halls was good example of this. Baker’s arrangement moved this traditional carol into a minor key and threw in a sultry Latin groove (Besame Mucho, anyone?). This featured solos by Johnny Summers (trumpet) and Gerry Hebert (soprano sax).

One audience member learned what happens if you have the misfortune of arriving late to a CJO performance. She was on the receiving end of some good-natured ribbing throughout the evening. Molly will undoubtedly show up on time to next year’s performance and without her “winterscape” sweater that Summers admired. Others Sinatra hits performed in the second set included Love Me or Leave Me, Star Dust and All or Nothing at All.

The CJO closed the programme with Oh Holy Night. This arrangement was an interesting blend of styles – part gospel, part classical, and part country. The music soon gave way to an upbeat, double-time groove and featured solos by Sarah Matheson (baritone sax), Carsten Rubeling and Greg Baker.

The audience quickly rose to their feet to give the CJO a standing ovation and called out for an encore. The jazz band complied with one final Frank Sinatra hit, I’ve Got the World on a String. Isenor and Tomes returned to the stage, complementing the music with their toe-tapping swing.

About the Calgary Jazz Orchestra

The Calgary Jazz Orchestra is a sixteen-member jazz band that was founded in 2004 and is directed by Johnny Summers. "A Perfectly Frank Christmas" featured Johnny Summers, Hazel Proctor and Greg Baker on vocals, Gerry Hebert, Richard Harding, Jeremy Brown, Shane Statz and Sarah Matheson on saxophones, Johnny Summers, Kim Beachum, Gordon Wilhelm, Andrew Wickenheiser and Al Muirhead on trumpets and Tim Embree, Carsten Rubeling, Shawn Hamilton and Greg Robertson on trombones. Bob Erlendson (piano), Kodi Hutchinson (bass) and Greg Baker (drums) complete the jazz band. The band arrangements for this concert were by Paul Ashwell, Johnny Summers and Greg Baker.

The CJO delivered a lively programme with strong performances at "A Perfectly Frank Christmas", held Sunday, December 19, 2010. The band launched its 2010/11 season in September, featuring music by Charlie Mingus and Oscar Peterson. Upcoming jazz concerts include “ENTERTAINMENT!” on January 30, 2011, featuring music from pop culture (pop, movies and video games) and on April 10, 2011, the music Duke Ellington and Harry Connick Jr. For more information about the CJO, visit their website.

Originially published Suite101.com on December 20, 2010. Updated on April 13, 2013. All rights reserved by Rhona-Mae Arca.