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SJO spices up its act for annual Christmas show

Fri., Dec. 3, 2010

“Sweet and mellow” are two perfectly reasonable attributes for holiday music, but sometimes you crave something hotter and spicier.

So the Spokane Jazz Orchestra is presenting “A Hot Spiced Christmas” on Saturday, with guest vocalist Jennifer Madsen.

Expect to hear a selection of jazzy holiday tunes, performed at a snow-melting temperature by this 17-piece big band under the direction of Tom Molter.

Madsen lives in Utah but is familiar to local audiences. She was a singer and music teacher in Spokane for many years and has performed in clubs and in concert throughout the region, including previous stints with the Spokane Jazz Orchestra.

You have probably heard her voice whether you know it or not. She’s in demand as a commercial jingle-singer and can be heard on ads for Levi’s, Wendy’s and Sprite. She also serves as the voice for the CBS show “Cold Case.”

“The great thing about Jennifer Madsen is that she has a vast background in stage production, and she’s a studio musician,” said Molter. “If you hand her a score, she can sight-read it. Not everybody can do that.”

Madsen had her own vocal studio in the Los Angeles area for many years before coming to Spokane. She also served as the artistic director of the American Children’s Theatre of Southern California.

Meanwhile, she has always been a performer, known for her mastery of many styles, including jazz, classical, Broadway, soul and funk. She has been quoted as saying, “Tell me what to wear so I’ll know how you want me to sing.”

For this concert, the correct clothing option would probably be “holiday-festive.”

The numbers featuring Madsen will include jazzy arrangements of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus,” “Have a Cool Yule” and “Merry Christmas Baby.”

The first half of the show will feature the SJO performing instrumentals including the Stan Kenton arrangement of “Good King Wenceslas” and Count Basie’s “Jingle Bells.”

The big showcase numbers will include the rare Gil Evans arrangement of the “Arabian Dance” from Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” and Molter’s own salsa-flavored arrangement of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.”

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