Where did you get the idea for the album and what was the thinking behind it?
I had been encouraged throughout the years to make a Christmas record, but never thought it to be such a keen idea. But approximately three years ago I played a series of Christmas programs in Memphis- twelve one hour programs in three days. Prior to this series I set out to memorize a long list of songs, and after playing these tunes over and over in this short period of time I began to make these tunes my own, causing me to fall in love with Christmas music.
There is quite a variety of styles on the album - who were some of the
influences you had in mind?
The "Charlie Brown Christmas” material by pianist Vince Guaraldi; spirituals, plus standard Christmas tunes.
How did you pick the material?
The tunes were picked from the repertoire I honed from playing the Christmas programs in Memphis.
Santa Claus is coming to town - very bluesy! Any background to this?
Not really- it just makes a nice shuffling boogie!
And who is Ray Heckman?
Ray is a Cincinnati-based tenor saxophonist I’ve known since 1978- we’ve played together from time to time throughout the years. When King Records was operating, Ray was part of a horn section that recorded there on occasion.
Bekah Williams sounds almost like Mahalia Jackson on 'O Holy Night' -
was that the sound you wanted, or did that just happen?
I set out to record that piece as a solo piano track- initially, I thought the whole album would be solo piano. But Bekah has sung that tunes beautifully at Christmas shows in previous years, so it made sense for her to sing it. She grew up in the Pentecostal church- her father was a minister- so church singing is in her bones.
What is your personal favourite Christmas song? And what is your
personal favourite Christmas song to play? What do you like about it?
I really don’t have a favorite- I like all the songs in my holiday repertoire.
Any plans for a volume 2, and if so, any thoughts on what it might include?
Not at this time.
Which Christmas songs seem to go down best with audiences?
Probably the “Charlie Brown Christmas” selections- this music has a special place in many people’s hearts. I saw the show at the age of nine when it first aired in 1965 and it caused me at an early age to fall in love with the piano trio format (piano, upright bass and drums).
Any Christmas gig stories?
When do you start/ stop playing Christmas numbers on gigs?
I typically wait until December 1st, and I play no Christmas tunes after December 25th.
Anything else you want to say (usually including a "Merry Christmas to
all the readers”)
This album formed itself over the course of several months: it began as solo piano recording- kept some tunes as solos, but realized certain tunes lent themselves to trio format. Thought I’d sing a few numbers, then ditched that idea in favor of featuring vocalist Bekah Williams. She is a lovely singer- we have been working together for almost twenty years. I thank upright bassist Chris Douglas for making for some fine duets on “Let It Snow” and “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”. I liked the idea of making “Blue Christmas” a tenor sax feature in the style of Boots Randolph, and Ray Heckman also played some fantastic stuff on “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus”.
I didn’t set out to reinvent these pieces- just aimed for a complimentary variety of holiday material, and I must say I am very proud of this release. Also I give thanks recording engineer John Hoffman for making everything sound so lush and warm.
SO there you go! Thanks, and HAPPY HOLIDAYS!
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