The jingle jangle of red hot Jazz will be bountiful as restaurateur and vocalist extraordinaire Molly McFadden fires up the Michigan Jazz Trail Big Band to stoke the yuletide log this holiday season with The Michigan Jazz Trail Christmas Show, happening on Sunday, December 4th at 3:00 PM within the inviting embrace of Saginaw's historic Temple Theatre.
Led by Maestro James Hohmeyer, the MJT Big Band is comprised of a sparkling litany of sixteen of the top jazz artists within the Great Lakes Bay region and beyond, including names such as Jeff Hall, Roland Wallace, Pete Simonson and Vicky Bowden (to name but a few) performing the classics of Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole and Diana Krall, while broadening the spectrum to also feature collaborations between McFadden and vocalists Julie Mulady and Mary Gilbert.
And to add additional frosting to the cookie, local luminaries such as Michael Brush will have a rare opportunity to perform new original holiday compositions within a Big Band context, while the soulful Gospel vocalizations of The Bamecians along with The Voices of Jazz are showcased to add depth and dimension to the entire oeuvre.
While many shows and musicals are plentiful this holiday season, according to McFadden this particular celebration is distinguishable and unique because “Nobody does a Jazz Christmas Show, quite frankly. My thought was to give people that love the musical arrangements of Nat King Cole and Diana Krall and films like White Christmas and Holiday Inn a context to bring that music and spirit alive. To me this represented a wonderful opportunity to take all these wonderful musicians that we've assembled for the Michigan Jazz Trail in the summer months and give then another chance to perform, while keeping the brand of the Michigan Jazz Trail alive in everybody's mind, so people realize we aren't just about summer concerts. Besides, the more the Big Band performs the more synergy will develop.”
According to McFadden, production-wise this celebration will be like “one big musical sugar cookie.”
“We want people to truly come home for the holidays and enjoy what we have to serve,” she continues. “I will be joining vocalists Mary Gilbert and Julie Mulady for a vocal collaboration to open the show together,” she continues, “and we'll be performing Santa Baby and close with Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Each of us has unique voices, so I'm incredibly excited about this collaboration. Each of these women has the chops and the resume.”
For McFadden, this Christmas Celebration is also a fulcrum for bringing together all the celebrated and accomplished artists within the region to remind people exactly how embedded and permeated our area is with talented jazz talent, which has been true since the early days of Sonny Stitt up through contemporary performers like Bay City's Kevin Cole, who have gone on to earn international acclaim.
“What we really are doing is taking all these artists and giving them an event to perform at within a spectacular venue and in turn let the region embrace it,” notes McFadden. “Our goal is to expose people to the wonders of Jazz. Some say that 'hate Jazz', but if you ask whether they like an artist like Diana Krall; they'll say 'Yes, I love her'. Well then, you like jazz! Plus we are starting to fund Jazz Clinics and did one in November, so our goal is to constantly promote the idiom.”
Michael Brush, who was recently honored for a Lifetime of Achievement back in October, is equally enthused about this upcoming performance and latest evolution of the Michigan Jazz Trail.
“Molly and her crew have put together exceptional concerts in the past,” states Brush. “She is driven by the desire to bring awareness and appreciation to the talent that resides in the Great Lakes Bay Region. While bringing in "headliners", the concertgoer also has the opportunity to see and hear more localized musicians in a new way. The MJT Big Band is loaded with fine players and this will be the first Saginaw appearance of it, which is very impressive.”
“In last summer's Midland MJT concert, I had the pleasure of having my big band arrangement of This Is Even Better performed by the big band and sung, of course, by Julie Mulady,” continues Brush. “On December 4th we will do two more of my songs, Decembering and Christmas Eve For Two arranged for big band. Christmas Eve For Two is a new song that we are in the process of recording, with plans to have it available at the show probably re-packaged together with the songs from our CD, Decembering.
“It is quite a challenge to create big band arrangements and something I had not previously done. I have a new appreciation for those who excel at it. Jeff Hall plays a major role in the MJT process organizationally, in performance, and is also a great arranger. Jim Hohmeyer has also done some amazing composition and arranging.”
“I am also arranging more of the songs I have written for a concert to be held at the State Theatre on February 25th. It'll be Brush Street with Brass and Strings. These arrangements will be for four brass and three strings, in addition to the rhythm section. We plan to record many of these as well. I've got a lot of work to do so it's a good thing I'm retired,” laughs Brush.
“The Michigan Jazz Trail has already established a high standard of professionalism with Molly McFadden and crew keeping a constant eye on the goal to bring awareness of the wealth of high quality talent we have right here. It is a noble mission and I am very grateful for the opportunity to be part of it.”
The cultural richness of area talent will be given pivotal focus with the performance of The Bamecians at this December 4th Christmas performance. Consisting of a collective of phenomenal women led by Damona Reed, Molly says that she attended one of the church services they performed at in Saginaw and met one of their directors and asked if they could come to her Midland restaurant, Molly's Bistro, for a 'Gospel Night'.
“We put together a Soul Food dinner to accompany their performance and it was a huge smash,” notes McFadden. “Being from the South originally, I know how to cook Fried Chicken and Grits, and this one of the most popular evenings we've ever experienced, so I definitely wanted to feature them within the body of this holiday performance. They are an absolutely delightful group.”
Equally notable is the relatively new Voices of Jazz, which contains some of the most talented 'future stars' of young artists of the next decade. With young vocalists hailing from each of the tri-cities, McFadden states how this collective is “The future of jazz. We need to bow to the youthful talent of this acapella group, because they are the ones that will carry on the torch into the future decades.”
Insofar as a central component of the Christmas season is centered upon giving, The Michigan Jazz Trail Christmas Show will also help to benefit and increase awareness for Emmaus House, with an informational table and complimentary tickets for the children housed there, along with food donations to benefit The Salvation Army and unwrapped toys for the Toys for Tots program accepted.
“I feel it very important that we give back to the community,” reflects McFadden. “Arts and music have the power to give back, so these gestures are also an important component to this entire event.”
Given the ambitious nature and vision of such an eclectic and focused program, how long does Molly anticipate the show running? “At the rate I'm going it will be five hours long,” she laughs. “Jim Hohmeyer is getting a little nervous because I have a tendency to want everybody to come and perform, but I'm sure we'll have an intermission and will get everything down to a tight and well rehearsed time span. But I do feel it important that people experience holiday music as performed in all the different genres, from Jazz to Swing to Gospel to Acapella. Dave Smith did a wonderful Bossa Nova arrangement for one of the Christmas carols and really, this is a tapestry of music under the aroma of Jazz.”
“It's been a challenge rehearsing this performance and everybody is responsible for bringing what they do to the table so we can keep it tight and flawless,” concludes Molly. “One of the best compliments that I've received all year was from one John Nichol, one of the musician's in the Big Band. He looked at me and said, 'Molly, you've changed the Jazz Scene in this area and I want to thank you so much.' I was both touched and humbled, because all I've really done is pull all the talent that was already here together. Honestly, I'm in awe of what these artists do.”
“To my mind, we've only touched the tip of the iceberg.”
Tickets for The Michigan Jazz Trail Christmas Show are $45.00 for a Family of 4; $35.00 for Couples; $20.00 for single tickets; and $12.00 for students with I.D. The show is Free for children ages 6 and under. Tickets are available at The Temple Theatre by calling 1-877-754 SHOW. The performance will take place on Sunday, December 4th at 3:00 PM.