Just like milk and cookies, reindeer and carrots, or rum and eggnog, nothing goes together quite like jazz and Christmas music.
The Woodhouse – a Toronto-based jazz combo of Nova Scotians – will be bringing their brand of seasonal jazz to the deCoste Centre on December 20.
The group’s debut album and tour are both titled “Home for Christmas”– a nod to the tour’s beginning in Ontario and finishing in Nova Scotia.
As for how the band’s debut came to be a Christmas album, drummer Will Fisher explained: “It was one of the years in Truro – one of the members just announced to our surprise ‘we have a surprise for you, next year we’re going to have a Christmas album’ and we all kind of looked at each other and were like ‘oh, okay’,” Fisher recalled.
“That year it wasn’t really in the cards. We had to swallow our pride when we came back and said ‘one more year, we promise!’ and we did.”
He said the group wanted to take the arrangements they made and put them out there for people. “We had some of the arrangements we had done kind of one and off different years and some people were like ‘oh I really wish you played that one from last year’ so we decided ‘you know what? Let’s record these and put them out there.’”
The show will be made entirely of jazz-flavoured Christmas classics, a notion that Fisher said seemed unlikely in the band’s early days.
“When we first started out, the very first year (in 2005) we played one Christmas song,” Fisher said. “We were all young and this idea that we weren’t going to sell out and play Christmas music but once we started doing these arrangements we started really having fun with it. Now it’s one hundred per cent Christmas, our own original arrangements and some original music.”
Fisher said shows typically feature a surprise special guest. As well, vocalist Barbra Lica will be filling in for Jennah Barry who handled vocals on the recording.
As for why jazz and Christmas songs work so well together it seems many of them are secretly jazz to begin with, which gives jazz musicians a leg up over their pop and country & western peers.
“I think there’s kind of a long tradition there,” Fisher said. “Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong – you have all the greats, you have all these musicians… and a lot of these Christmas songs were being churned out the same way the standards were on Tin Pan Alley and stuff like that.
“They were written by the same people so the forms are similar, they lend a lot of the same harmonies. I think it just seemed like a natural progression for these jazz musicians to latch on to them and use them as a vehicle for improvisation and arrangements the same way they took old show tunes and pop tunes.”
Fisher continued, “I think it just works really well. Sometimes when you hear these pop Christmas albums it sounds a little contrived in a way… I think, it sounds kind of weird to say it, but I think jazz and this kind of Christmas holiday music is part of the tradition almost.”
It may also explain why the bulk of Christmas music is so notoriously complex and chordy… at least to non-jazzers.
“It’s no more complex than what we would be playing for standards,” Fisher confirmed. “Jazz musicians are used to the complexity of the chords and the cycles and the forms. You can take a lot of things from the standards, basic jazz arranging lessons, and they slide right in. I think it helps. We can either strip it down and make it much simpler … or some of the arrangements we have a lot of time changes and feel changes and it’s really complex.”
A taste of The Woodhouse sound can be found at www.thewoodhouse.bandcamp.com/ while show and ticket information can be obtained at the deCoste Centre box office.