A&E » Arts

Jazz is coming to town

Traditional Christmas songs, Nutcracker Suite jazzed up



By Nicole Fitzgerald

What: Jazzy Nutcracker with Bill Mays

When: Saturday, Dec. 9, 8 p.m.

Where: MY Millennium Place

Tickets: $27.50/$25.50/$15

Bill Mays and the Toronto Chamber Jazz Septet jazz up all of the Christmas classics including Tchaikovsky’s infamous Nutcracker Suite Saturday evening at MY Millennium Place as part of the Real Canadian in Whistler series.

“I like the universal appeal of all the memories Christmas music stirs up from childhood,” Mays said. “It’s that tie in with memories and family going back to childhood. As an arranger it’s also fun to take things that are normally heard in more of a traditional way and putting jazz chords and rhythms to it and letting the guys improvise.”

The Toronto Chamber Jazz Septet treats classics such as Clair De Lune by Debussy and Pavane from Mother Goose Suite with jazz stylings on strings, woodwinds and a rhythm section.

Mays, the arranger and musical director, is a veteran bandsman who has spent decades working in the music industry with legends such as Frank Zappa, Dionne Warwick, Anita O’Day and Frank Sinatra. From Hollywood recording studios and television show sets to New York’s Carnegie Hall and the Blue Note, Mays has played it all.

Mays on piano is joined by Neil Swinson on bass, Terry Clarke on drums, Tom Colclough on saxophone and clarinet, Perry White on bass and saxophone, and PJ Perry and Campbell Ryga on flute and saxophone.

“This program will appeal to classical and jazz fans alike,” Mays said.

The show emerged when the group of interchanging players came together to record a jazz version of the Nutcracker Suite for a Japanese record label. The album enjoyed huge success in Japan and Europe, so Mays decided to pitch the idea of a Christmas program to CBC. Less than a decade later, the group has performed for audiences in New York City and across Canada.

In addition to familiar Christmas songs such as Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas and Santa Claus is Coming to Town, the septet also includes six movements from the Nutcracker Suite in the concert lineup. Tchaikovsky’s overture, March, Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, Dance of the Reed Flutes, Arab Dance and Waltz of the Flowers will all be favourites familiar to the audience.

“I stay true to classical composers harmonic classical schemes and improvise on the underlying harmonies, just as we do in jazz,” Mays said of his revised arrangements. “It brings a vitality using jazz rhythms with things we are already familiar with. It’s great to tell our own story on those (classical) themes.”