Jazzing up the holidays with the CSB

by Stan Kelley

Despite the onset of winter temperatures, the trombone stylings of this year’s Chicago Staff Band (CSB) Sounds of the Seasons guest, Wycliffe Gordon, can only be categorized as “hot!” He did not hold back. He did not disappoint.

A world-renowned jazz talent, Wycliffe has wide-ranging skills like arranging music, including gospel songs and the theme for National Public Radio show “All Things Considered,” and featuring various instruments such as the Australian didgeridoo. He is a veteran member of the Wynton Marsalis Septet and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and has been featured in the “Jazz at the Kennedy Center” series. A former faculty member at the Juilliard School of Music, he currently is director of jazz studies at Augusta University in Augusta, Ga.

The Sounds of the Seasons concert covered many musical styles including 20th Century free-form jazz with band accompaniment, traditional Christmas song arrangements, a 42-year-old suite for brass band (which included singing), and more. The CSB was in fine form, playing some of the most contemporary brass band literature.

The band opened with Fanfare Prelude on Richmond, by Andrew Wainwright, followed by a three-movement suite, To the Chief Musician by William Himes, who also served as a narrator during the second movement. This suite, which has a contemporary feel, continues to be on concert programs around The Salvation Army world. One of the featured songs is, “I Bring Thee My All.”

Wycliffe’s first solo package demonstrated his breadth of talent with a variety of items starting with “Me, We,” a 20th Century tour de force that he wrote. The next piece demonstrated his flexibility as he presented the jazz standard, “Stardust,” an arrangement of Hoagy Carmichael’s 1927 standard. Closing this section was “Brasilia” by contemporary composer Robin Dewhurst, which features a South American feel with complementary rhythmic and melodic sections.

Rounding out the first half of the program was “Out of Darkness” by Marcus Venables, a significant and demanding item focusing on the contemporary Christian song, “Thank You, Jesus for the Blood” by Charity Gayle.

The second half began with Overture — The Proclamation of Christmas by Stephen Bulla, featuring “Ding, Dong Merrily on High,” “The First Noel,” and “Angels from the Realms of Glory.”

It was followed by Philip Rayment’s “Winter’s Snow,” a triumphant arrangement of the carol, “See Amid the Winter’s Snow.”

Wycliffe’s second package featured Christmas carols including “Silent Night” (Gruber/arr. Barrie Gott) followed by a jazz quartet arrangement of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (Blane/arr. Wycliffe Gordon) and “Here Comes Santa Claus” (Gene Autry/arr. Eric Alexander) featuring Wycliffe on a soprano trombone, the CSB trombones, and Captain Paul Bowyer on sousaphone.

Closing out this section, the band and Wycliffe presented “007 Light” by Markus Frei which features the children’s chorus “This Little Light of Mine” in the style of the James Bond movie theme song. It was well received.

Territorial Commander Commissioner Evie Diaz, herself an eight-year veteran of the CSB, brought a devotional on celebrating gifts, specifically God’s indescribable gift— Emmanuel! God with us.

A Christmas Finale by Paul Lovatt- Cooper, which contains many popular holiday tunes, provided a festive and ideal closure to this year’s Sounds of the Seasons concert.

As an encore, Wycliffe joined with the CSB on “Three Kings Swing” by William Himes which features a swinging cornet solo, but it is safe to say the piece has never “swung” like that night with Wycliffe on soprano trombone which brought the audience to their feet in ovation.

The evening concluded with former CSB members joining the band and Wycliff on the platform to sing the well-loved “Choral Benediction,” written and led by William Himes.

View a full photo gallery here.



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