Wynton Marsalis and gang bring spirit of Christmas to Lied Center

Next to the arrival of Santa’s sleigh, a holiday concert performance by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra may be the most anticipated event of the Christmas season.

Nothing inspires the Yuletide’s joyous mood like the “Big Band Holidays” program, and the 15-piece ensemble did not disappoint as it played to a near-sellout audience of 2,000 on Friday night at the Lied Center for Performing Arts.

Bandleader and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis had previously brought the band to the Lied Center for Performing Arts for the hall’s 20th anniversary and again for its 25th anniversary, but this was its first holiday appearance.

Guest vocalists have played an important role in the annual “Big Band Holidays” touring roadshow. Among the standouts that have taken the stage with the orchestra in recent years are Catherine Russell, Gregory Porter, Rene Marie and Cecile McLorin Salvant. This tour put Denzal Sinclaire, of Canada, and 18-year-old Alexis Morrast in the vocal spotlight.

The orchestra roared out of the gate with the uptempo opener, “Jingle Bells,” featuring Marsalis himself taking several solo choruses on trumpet before turning it over to trombonist Elliot Mason and tenor saxophonist Camille Thurman.

Sinclaire showed vocal style and wit in a rendition of “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth.” He showcased his warm baritone voice on “We Three Kings of Orient Are.” He also paid tribute to Nat King Cole on a lovely version of “Caroling, Caroling,” highlighted by Ted Nash on an alto saxophone solo flight over the chord changes. Marsalis called it an “unapologetic swing.”

As always, emcee Marsalis provided plenty of background information on the tunes. He noted, for example, that the opener, “Jingle Bells,” was written in 1957, the same year as “We Three Kings…” The set list also featured two songs from 1944, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” with Kenny Rampton on lead trumpet, and “The Christmas Song,” with vocals by Morrast, who briefly dropped a lyric but quickly recovered.

She later excelled on Donny Hathaway’s soulful “This Christmas,” and “Is Zat You, Santa Claus?” made famous by Louis Armstrong’s 1953 recording

To close the show, Sinclaire and Morrast combined voices on an unusual arrangement of “Silent Night” done in the style of Fats Domino, circa 1954. It began with a rocking, New Orleans-style piano solo by Dan Nimmer and also featured growling solos by Victor Goines on tenor sax and Chris Crenshaw on trombone.

by Tom Ineck
Source: The Lincoln Journal Star

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