BIG BAND HOLIDAYS | New York, Jazz at Lincoln Center

Santa hats are bobbing in the front row. The Rose theater is dressed in festive red. The lighting team are having fun projecting snowflakes and other chilly symbols onto the walls. Everything about the space says ‘Christmas’ and we’re about to unwrap our gifts from Jazz at Lincoln Center.

The Big Band Holidays set starts with a shout-out not just to Victor Goines who arranged the chart but also comes with a trademark Wynton Marsalis ‘origin story’. You learn something new about music every time JALC play and today we learned that the composer of ‘All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth’ was written by a second-grade teacher from Smithtown New York. What we also learned was that if you want to get Wynton hungry for solos, get him to set out a tour with the band. Having sat out the series of shows with Dianne Reeves, he tears into the opening solo of this set. The sheer soul of it is worth the price of admission. We all hang on the maestro’s every note, none with a better view than Summer Camargo (Juilliard ‘23) who has joined the trumpet section for the evening. 

As is customary at this time of year, the band uses the program to introduce the audience to some brilliant new talent. In the instrumental department, Summer is not just here to observe Wynton’s winter ornaments. She takes the solo in ‘Deck the Halls’ (arranged by Chris Crenshaw) and uses the chance to show off some of the tricks she has up her sleeve, turning Victor’s head from the sax section and earning perhaps the biggest audience whoop for any solo we hear tonight. The other attention-grabbing talent of the evening is newly Grammy-nominated Samara Joy. She’s had one heck of a year and this appearance is rounding things off in style. Her vocals are powerful, delicate, thoughtful, joyful and adorn the big band arrangements like chocolate sauce gliding effortlessly over an icecream sundae. She mentions that she learned ‘I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm’ from Ella (Fitzgerald) and ‘It’s Easy to Blame the Weather’ from Billie (Holiday). Well, her versions stand up and I’m sure Ella and Billie would be proud of the musical lineage Samara is in the process of extending. 

Is it original to decide that my favorite thing about the concert was Ted Nash’s arrangement of ‘My Favorite Things’? My own originality aside, this was a moment when the band’s originality shone bright. Ted with a delicate solo, Elliot Mason’s trombone sliding into action, interplay between Samara and Summer, Carlos Henriquez’s bass slowing things down and then Obed Calvaire’s drums driving the message home. Like a snow storm building outside the door, Obed’s drums pattered at the window then built to a gust searching for cracks in a cabin. We’re all safe and warm inside the Big Band Holidays sound, a gift that keeps on giving from a jazz family determined to make every generation, every town, every person part of the celebrations. 

Check out the Big Band Holidays album here and see the rest of their season here.

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