Take Kansas UniversityÃ¢ÂÂs annual Holiday Vespers, tweak it with a little skid-a-ree-doo-bop, and you get a new variation of the yuletide tradition that appeals to holiday hep cats.
KUÃ¢ÂÂs jazz program will unleash its first-ever Jazz Vespers this week at the Lied Center. The program will feature a rare performance of Duke EllingtonÃ¢ÂÂs Ã¢ÂÂHarlem Nutcracker,Ã¢ÂÂ performed by the universityÃ¢ÂÂs premier jazz ensemble and featuring special guest soloists.
Ã¢ÂÂThe Ellington Ã¢ÂÂ'NutcrackerÃ¢ÂÂ is a great piece. ItÃ¢ÂÂs something IÃ¢ÂÂve always wanted to try to tackle with a college band,Ã¢ÂÂ said Dan Gailey, director of jazz studies. Ã¢ÂÂIÃ¢ÂÂm really sorry I missed it by one year. Last year was the Ellington centennial.Ã¢ÂÂ
Better late than never, though. EllingtonÃ¢ÂÂs Ã¢ÂÂ'NutcrackerÃ¢ÂÂ should be a real crowd pleaser, Gailey said. In the nine-movement suite, the jazz great sticks to the principal themes of TchaikovskyÃ¢ÂÂs classic but jazzes up the interpretations.
Ã¢ÂÂThe textures you hear are much more jazz-oriented,Ã¢ÂÂ Gailey said. Ã¢ÂÂHe did some pretty funny things with the grooves and the tempos. The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies is a slow, sultry almost New Orleans-based jazz swing.Ã¢ÂÂ
The Ellington piece is performed in major cities almost every year, Gailey said, but always by extremely high-caliber groups. ItÃ¢ÂÂs a number thatÃ¢ÂÂs difficult to play and difficult to obtain the rights to play.
Ã¢ÂÂItÃ¢ÂÂs a really major undertaking. I donÃ¢ÂÂt know that itÃ¢ÂÂs been performed in the Kansas City area recently,Ã¢ÂÂ Gailey said. Ã¢ÂÂItÃ¢ÂÂs a pretty rare opportunity to hear it, at least in our neck of the woods.Ã¢ÂÂ
The 18-piece KU Jazz Ensemble I will perform the piece in its entirety. Guest soloists include Toni-Marie Montgomery, pianist and dean of fine arts; Vince Gnojek, professor of saxophone and director of woodwinds; Larry Maxey, professor of clarinet; and Keith Wright, a Lawrence doctoral student who performs on the bamboo flute.
The jazz program always has a December concert. This year, Gailey finally decided there was enough holiday music arranged by jazz composers to put together a Vespers-style concert. ItÃ¢ÂÂs likely Jazz Vespers will become an ongoing tradition, like its decades-old counterpart Holiday Vespers.
Ã¢ÂÂHarlem NutcrackerÃ¢ÂÂ will end ThursdayÃ¢ÂÂs performance. The first half of the show will include four original jazz versions of holiday favorites, arranged by Gailey. Ã¢ÂÂSanta Claus is Coming to TownÃ¢ÂÂ is an all-clarinet rendition punctuated with a drum kit. It features Larry Mallett, chair of music and dance; Larry Maxey; John Lynch, director of bands; and student performers Matt Heimbach, Merriam senior; Heather Brown, Topeka junior; and Josh Adams, Prairie Village sophomore.
Then the big band sound kicks in with a fretless electric bass and flute duet of Ã¢ÂÂGreensleevesÃ¢ÂÂ performed by Kip Haaheim, assistant professor of music theory and composition, and Keith Wright. Ellen Bottoff will serve as vocal and piano soloist on Vince GuaraldiÃ¢ÂÂs Ã¢ÂÂChristmas Time Is Here.Ã¢ÂÂ The first act will end with Herbie HancockÃ¢ÂÂs version of Ã¢ÂÂDeck the Halls.Ã¢ÂÂ