Calgary Jazz Orchestra A Perfectly Frank Christmas 2011 Review

The Calgary Jazz Orchestra performed a sold-out concert at River Park Church in Calgary, Alberta on Sunday, December 18, 2011. From “White Christmas” to “Long Way to Go”, the CJO presented a wide range of big band jazz, Frank Sinatra classics and Christmas favourites.

The CJO trombone section played a selection of Christmas carols while the audience found seats. Extra seats soon had to be added.

Opening Act William Aberhart Jazz Ensemble Performed Big Band Hits


The William Aberhart Jazz Ensemble Plays at the Calgary Jazz Orchestra concert. Photo by R-M Arca.

William Aberhart High School Jazz Ensemble kicked things off with “Idiom 59 – Part II” (Duke Ellington), an upbeat swing number. It was followed by an arrangement of “All of Me” (Gerry Marks and Seymour Simons) a lively number, which Frank Sinatra has recorded.

William Aberhart High School of Calgary is directed by Kevin Wilms. The Jazz Ensemble performs in concerts, competitions and festivals throughout Alberta.

Swing, Call and Response and Impressive Jazz Solos in CJO's Opening Set

Members of the Calgary Jazz Orchestra walked on-stage confidently and in relaxed spirits, sporting festive red ties. The notable exception was the rhythm section, who wore black ties.

The first number was a cheerful arrangement of Sergei Prokofiev's “Troika”. The original theme featured pianist Egor Ukoloff flying across the keys before the music changed to a medium swing. This featured lively exchanges between different sections of the jazz orchestra. Solos were ably performed by Jeremy Brown, Al Muirhead and Sarah Matheson before the music returned to the traditional theme.

An arrangement of “The Grinch” (James Horner) followed. The dreamy opening showcased the piano, flutes and clarinets. The trumpets and saxophones took over, building the excitement until the Grinch theme appeared, played on the baritone sax. This slow swing number featured solos by Muirhead, Matheson and Shane Statz.

Crowd favourite Hazel Proctor sang “Please Come Home for Christmas” (Charles Brown). Wearing a sparkling floral jacket, Proctor dazzled the audience with her soulfulness and wide vocal range. Ukoloff's solo featured numerous runs and tremolos, while Brown's solo mirrored Proctor's earthiness.

Another gem was “Long Way to Go”. Composed by CJO director Johnny Summers, this rousing gospel song was commissioned by the United Way several years ago but was never used. Summers truly shone in this vocal number, delivering the powerful lyrics with a high dose of emotion and skill. Equally moving and impressive solos were performed by Ukoloff, Brown and Rich Harding.

Five more songs were performed in the first set. The CJO played arrangements of “Luck be a Lady” (Frank Loesser), “Just the Way You Look” (Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields), “Ave Maria” (Franz Schubert), “One for My Baby” (Johnny Mercer) and “I Been Lonely” (Johnny Summers).

Sleigh Ride, White Christmas and Louis Armstrong in CJO's Second Set

The Calgary Jazz Orchestra opened with “I Pray on Christmas” (Harry Connick Jr.). This lively gospel song featured Johnny Summers on vocals, Hazel Proctor singing off-stage and rhythmic clapping by CJO members and the audience.

Throughout the evening, Summers asked the audience about their Christmas Wish List and Christmas traditions. Selected responses garnered free concert tickets to an upcoming CJO performance or a jazz CD.

The audience was also polled on favourite Christmas songs. Sinatra classic, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” was selected and CJO musicians gamely played while Summers led the sing-a-long. This impromptu addition featured a beautiful solo by Al Muirhead.

Greg Baker surprised new listeners and delighted CJO regulars with his imitation of Louis Armstrong. Exchanging places with Summers, Baker sang “What a Wonderful World” (Bob Thiele and George David Weiss) .

The final number was “I'll Be Home for Christmas” (Kim Gannon and Walter Kent). This medium swing number gave each CJO member a chance in the spotlight. Every musician who could move walked to the front of the stage and played a solo when his or her name was announced.

Five more Christmas classics were also performed, including “Sleigh Ride”, “White Christmas” and “Oh Holy Night”. Sinatra standards, such as “Fly Me to the Moon” and “All of Nothing at All” were also featured.

After the last note died away, the audience quickly rose to give the CJO an enthusiastic standing ovation. The jazz ensemble responded by performing “Come By Me” by Harry Connick Jr. for an encore.

The skilled and playful banter – both musically and verbally – made this year's “A Perfectly Frank Christmas” a delightful concert. For instance, a lick played on the piano would later show up in a saxophone solo. Many of the solos drew cheers and whistles from the audience.

About the Calgary Jazz Orchestra

The Calgary Jazz Orchestra was founded by Johnny Summers in 2004. Gerry Hebert, Rich Harding, Jeremy Brown, Shane Statz and Sarah Matheson performed on saxophone, flute and/or clarinet. The trumpet section included Johnny Summers, Kim Beachum, Gordon Wilhelm, Al Muirhead and André Wickenheiser. Brian Walley, Tim Embree, Nathan Gingrich and Greg Robertson performed on trombone. The rhythm section included Egor Ukoloff (piano), Kodi Hutchinson (bass) and Greg Baker (drums).

Arrangements by Johnny Summers, Greg Baker, Billy Byers and Paul Ashwell were used. Summers and Baker also sang in several numbers.

Jazz lovers will have three more opportunities to hear the Calgary Jazz Orchestra in the 2011/12 season. On January 23, 2012, the CJO and the UofC Jazz Ensemble will perform with Grammy winner Maria Schneider. Billie Holliday and Chet Baker music will be performed on February 12, 2012 and finally, blues tunes and numbers written by CJO members are on tap for May 6, 2012. Earlier in the year, the CJO presented a concert featuring swing, Latin and Cuban music.

The Calgary Jazz Orchestra performed to a full house on Sunday, December 18, 2011 at River Park Church in Calgary. This exciting jazz concert featured big band music, Frank Sinatra hits and jazzy Christmas classics that had the entire audience clapping, singing and cheering.

Originally published December 21, 2011 on Suite101. Updated August 7, 2013.