Eugene's Jazz Kings have been making periodic road trips up to Corvallis for concerts for roughly two decades, but one factor has remained constant: A deep love and abiding respect for the songs in the Great American Songbook.
That's true as well for the Jazz Kings' Christmas show, which blows into Corvallis for its annual performance at the LaSells Stewart Center on the Oregon State University campus on Tuesday, Dec. 11. (See the related story for details about the show.)
"When this music first happened, it was, really, really good," said James Ralph of Eugene's John G. Shedd Institute for the Arts, the home base for the Jazz Kings. "We're deeply respectful of those sides."
But the trick, Ralph said, is to avoid falling into the trap of nostalgia for its own sake: "There's a real tendency to rely upon nostalgia."
To that end, it helps the Jazz Kings to have access to a stable of arrangers who can help freshen up a classic track if need be, while still respecting the qualities that have made those songs endure.
And variety helps as well: The Shedd has access to thousands of charts, and so vocalist Shirley Andress, the artistic director of the Jazz Kings Christmas show, has plenty of choices as she's crafting each year's concert.
The theme for this year's show is "Ring Those Bells," and the program strikes a balance between holiday favorites that audiences come expecting to hear ("Silver Bells," for example, or "Jingle Bells") and other tracks that are, perhaps, less expected: "Ring a Merry Bell," a 1961 track that's best known for a June Christy recording, for example, or "When Do the Bells Ring for Me," a 1989 tune recorded by Tony Bennett and Mariah Carey.
The Jazz Kings also can dig deep into its stock of tunes for tracks that are more obscure: This concert includes a Jimmy Dorsey track, "The Dixieland Band from Santa Claus Land."
Of course, the concert includes a traditional sing-along with four favorite carols: "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," "Joy to the World," "Silent Night" and "Angels We Have Heard on High."
Ralph said this edition of the Christmas show features a smaller ensemble than usual, with four vocalists (Andress, Marisa Frantz, Bob Cross and Bill Hulings) and six musicians in the band (Vicki Brabham, who directs, along with Devin Wright, Dave Bender, Glenn Griffith and Nathan Waddell).
But the show still swings, Ralph said, even as it pays tribute to these songs: "The period of the Great American Songbook was extraordinarily fruitful."