The Spokane Jazz Orchestra’s 42nd season continues this weekend with “A Christmas Celebration,” a concert at the Bing Crosby Theater that will showcase jazzy yuletide numbers designed to get you in the holiday spirit. Perhaps the most significant piece on the roster is Duke Ellington’s interpretation of P.I. Tchaikovsky’s famous “Nutcracker Suite,” a little-performed composition by an oft-performed composer.
“It’s a really interesting and beautiful take on the original,” said SJO director Don Goodwin. “Even though there are some very introspective moments in the music, it’s charged with this party energy.”
The nine-movement, 35-minute suite was arranged by Ellington and his writing partner Billy Strayhorn and was originally released in 1960. Although the jazz orchestra plays Ellington compositions frequently, including individual movements from the “Nutcracker Suite,” Goodwin says the piece isn’t often performed in its entirety.
“It’s a big undertaking,” Goodwin said. “It’s quite difficult. It’s long. This is a special circumstance. … To do the entire piece in order, you have to commit to 35 minutes of music. It’s challenging, especially for the woodwind players and the rhythm section.”
Alongside the Ellington-Strayhorn piece, the program will include a Michael Bublé tune, a Christmas medley by Stan Kenton and a piece by local composer Bob Curnow. The evening will also feature an appearance by Seattle jazz vocalist Kelley Johnson, as well as a string quartet of Lewis and Clark High School students performing selections from Harry Connick Jr.’s “Harry for the Holidays” album.
“It gives them an opportunity to be up onstage with us, and they’ll also be playing in the lobby before the concert,” Goodwin said.
SJO’s season continues on March 18 with a concert titled “A Groove Summit,” which will feature pianist Brent Edstrom and Goodwin on organ. They’ll be performing pieces by jazz greats Jimmy Smith and John Medeski. On May 13, the orchestra and guest vocalist Jake Bergevin present a musical tribute to Sting, featuring big band arrangements of his solo material, songs by the Police and selections from his various musical influences.
This season marks Goodwin’s second full year as the orchestra’s director, and he continues to compose original work and arrange much of the work that makes up SJO’s repertoire.
“It’s been a blast. It’s been a lot of work, but it’s fun work,” Goodwin said. “Most of these guys I’ve known for awhile, but not necessarily in the way of being in front of them and trying to capitalize on their various strengths. It’s been fun to get to know them in that way.”
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