Saxophonist and singer Valerie Gillespie added a full holiday twist to the Charlotte County Jazz Society's concert season on Monday, December 12 in Punta Gorda FL. She and her talented sextet from the Tampa Bay area coursed through 15 winter- or Christmas-themed musical chestnuts before closing with a brief salute to another holiday.
The leader shifted between alto and soprano saxes and flute, plus vocals on two-thirds of the material. Suggs added beautiful horn solos and fills behind Gillespie's vocals all night long.
Gillespie has been a familiar face on the CCJS stage in other musicians' bands, but this was her first appearance as a bandleader and singer.
Gillespie said the evening would include "traditional tunes performed in a non-traditional way," an apt description for the rhythmic choices and extended instrumental solos that enhanced them.
Three standout vocal gems this night included material not often heard in jazz settings: "Mary Did You Know?," the Carpenters' hit "Merry Christmas Darling," which featured a poignant solo from Suggs, and "It Can't Be Christmas Without You." The latter romantic ballad has all of the qualities needed to become a true holiday standard. Gillespie's big brother, Chuck Brand, wrote this title track on her Christmas CD. Her cover of "Mary Did You Know?" was particularly powerful, with Gillespie noting that the lyrics speak directly to "the reason for the season." Mark Lowry and Buddy Green wrote this gem in 1984. It was a huge hit for the young a capella group Pentatonix 30 years later.
The evening wound down with "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," spotlighting Marsh's piano artistry on CPAC's Steinway; a salsa-fied take on "Feliz Navidad," with Gillespie shifting to flute; and a brief romp through "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?"
While past December bands usually played a few holiday tunes, this was the first CCJS concert that featured them for the entire program. That made this night even more special for hardy listeners.
The Charlotte High School jazz ensemble performed a fine and varied pre-concert set.
|Marsh, Gillespie, Boisen, Suggs, Rudolph|
|Charlotte High School Jazz Ensemble|
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