Tag Archives: jazz

The musical handyman

This evening, the guest performers playing with the Butler Symphony Orchestra for their concert titled “Jazz” were Joe Negri and his trio.

Joe’s a well-known and uber-talented jazz guitarist, and an exceedingly nice person. He soloed on a number that is a signature tune for him, an adaptation of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee. Here’s a clip of him playing it with the Wheeling Symphony.

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Kooky Christmas #14: “Be-Bop Santa Claus” by Babs Gonzales

Digging into some jazz for number fourteen in the Kooky Christmas Countdown:

“Be-Bop Santa Claus” by Babs Gonzales

A Visit from St. Nicholas,” the poem by Clement Clarke Moore, has inspired many a kooky reading for entertainment-type purposes.

One that I particularly enjoy is Babs Gonzales‘s version, “Be-Bop Santa Claus.” It’s laden with fifties-era stereotypes, but it’s sweet at heart. Babs himself was primarily a scat-style vocalist in jazz’s bop period, recording with many Blue Note artists. There’s no scat in this number, but it gives us a taste of his rhythm and wit.

Find this tune on the essential compilation Hipsters’ Holiday: Vocal Jazz & R&B Classics. Or just grab the MP3, Be Bop Santa Claus.

Have a crazy cool Christmas! But don’t get knocked out.

Next up: From kooky to whacky.



Butler has a terrific symphony (and I’m not saying that just because I built their website). Every performance I attend, I leave thoroughly pleased and impressed.

One thing they do exceptionally well is identify terrific soloists to join them. Tonight, their guests were the Capitol Quartet, a group of saxophonists from Washington, D.C., who cover everything from traditional classical music to swinging jazz to modern classical, and probably more.

The Butler Symphony performed with the Capitol Quartet on several numbers, including a memorable Philip Glass concerto. They also delivered a couple of "a capella" tunes (as they called them), with the quartet playing without orchestral backing.

The video above is from a Capitol Quartet performance from last year. The song is "Fugue Well-Tampered," the core elements of which you may recognize from grade school music class as coming from Bach’s "Well-Tempered Clavier." This arrangement takes them in a fugue for four saxophones, which is in itself lovely. Then they bring in a jazzier flavor, and the tampering becomes sublime.

The video doesn’t much capture the quartet’s charm and performance style. They’re terrific. Seek them out.

The Butler Symphony’s season is over, but next season should be extra special, since it’ll be their sixtieth season.

Klezmer clarinet and Harlem piano fuse in Uptown Pittsburgh

Suzanne Ortner and Tom Roberts concert poster

Suzanne Ortner and Tom Roberts, incredible stride piano and klezmer clarinet

Friday, January 25th
at James Simon’s Sculpture Studio/Loft

305 Gist Street, Uptown, a few blocks from Birmingham Bridge off Forbes/Fifth Avenues, Tel: 412.434.5629
(Location & directions)

Doors open at 7pm
Music at 8pm

Donation suggested: $10

Good food and drinks provided–bring more if you’d like!

Tom Roberts is one of the leading exponents of early jazz piano–considered one of the top stride pianists in the world–toured with Leon Redbone, wrote for Winton Marsalis, created music for AVIATOR and more!

Suzanne Ortner is widely acclaimed as both a soloist and as a member of the German klezmer quartet: SING YOUR SOUL. Suzanne is known for the incredible beauty, depth and authenticity of her interpretations of eastern European folk music!

Holiday Music Countdown: Number 3, all the paper, tinsel, and the folderol

We’ve nearly made it through the month-long countdown of my favorite holiday songs, and now we come to the best of the best. (Find previous holiday countdown posts here.)

3. Merry X-Mas (To Whom It May Concern) (Miles Davis with Bob Dorough)

Jingle Bell Jazz album cover

In 1962, at the age of 36, Miles Davis was already a music legend. Three years earlier he’d released Kind of Blue, his masterwork, on which he’d collaborated with many of the great players and arrangers/composers of the time to develop a new style of jazz — cool jazz.

Executives at Columbia, his record label, pressured him to contribute a song to Jingle Bell Jazz, a Christmas album that they were compiling of music from jazz artists in their stable. He called in Bob Dorough, an unconventional composer and singer, to write lyrics and sing — one of few vocalists to perform on a Miles Davis recording. Gil Evans would handle the arrangement.

According to Jack Chambers (Milestones), Davis complained to Dorough, “What the fuck am I supposed to play for them? ‘White Christmas’?” (cite)

The resulting tune was “Merry X-Mas (To Whom It May Concern).” Dorough’s bitter and disenchanted lyrics trip along through the song, while Davis’s trumpet swirls around and punctuates the points.

One of the fun things about the internet is that you can find amazing and detailed information, particularly about an icon like Miles Davis. For example, we can discover that the song was recorded on August 21, 1962, in Columbia Studio A in New York. The performers included the Miles Davis Sextet plus Bob Dorough. The recording was finished in 12 takes.

I wasn’t able to find the lyrics anywhere, so I’ve transcribed them here.

Blue X-Mas (To Whom It May Concern)

Merry Christmas.
I hope you have a fine one,
But for me it’s blue.

Blue Christmas,
That’s the way you see it when you’re feeling blue.
Blue X-Mas,
When you’re blue at Christmastime you see right through
All the waste
All the sham
All the haste
And plain ol’ bad taste.

Sidewalk Santa Clauses are much much much too thin.
They’re wearing fancy rented costumes,
False beards,
And big fat phony grins.
And nearly everybody’s standing round holding out
Their empty hand or tin cup.
Gimme gimme gimme gimme.
Gimme gimme gimme.
Fill my stocking up,
All the way up.

It’s a time when the greedy
Give a dime to the needy.

Blue Christmas.
All the paper, tinsel, and the folderol.
Blue X-Mas.
People trading gifts that matter not at all,
What I call
Folderol. Bitter gall.


Lots of hungry homeless children
In your own backyards
While you’re very very busy addressing
Twenty-zillion Christmas cards.
Now, Yuletide is a season to receive, and oh to give
And ah, to share.
But all you December do-gooders rush around
And rant and rave
And loudly blare.

Merry Christmas.
I hope yours is a fine one,
But for me it’s blue.

I’m more a pessimist than an optimist. If I were a little more of a cynic, this would be my favorite Christmas song. As it is, I love the way it cuts through the glitter of the season. And I love the music, still sharp today, and the wit of the lyrics.

Incidentally, if Bob Dorough’s voice sounds familiar, it may be because he composed and sang many of the songs for Schoolhouse Rock. Think back to “Three Is a Magic Number” — that’s Dorough at work.