Duke's John Brown Jazzes Up Christmas With Durham's Nnenna Freelon
Christmas music. It's nearly inescapable at this time of year - on the radio, in shops, in cafes, everywhere. When Phoebe Judge sat down to talk about "Christmas" with jazz double bassist John Brown, the question arose: Why would musicians want to add to the large catalog of existing Christmas songs and recordings?
"It comes from a place of joy," said the double bassist. "We wanted to take this material that's tested, tried and true and say something different about it."
John Brown's the director of the jazz program at Duke University and in 2012 released a big band Christmas album with Durham's celebrated jazz singer Nnenna Feelon, herself a six time Grammy nominee. The album has been re-issued for this Christmas season.
This "Christmas" kicks off with "Swingle Jingle Bells" arranged by Frank Foster, a saxophonist, flautist, arranger, and composer who worked with the Count Basie Orchestra. Over the next nine tracks the album celebrates the season with brassy arrangements and Nnenna's lush vocals. Familiar chestnuts mix with a few lesser known compositions. The songs covered range from The Vince Guaraldi/Lee Mendelson composition "Christmas Time Is Hear" (you probably know that from the Charlie Brown Christmas TV special) to "Little Drummer Boy" and "Let It Snow."
The album is fully a North Carolina production, recorded at Mitch Easter's Fidelitorium Studios in Kernersville and mixed at studios in Durham and Carrboro, NC. In addition to Nnenna and John, the album features a number of well-known Carolina artists including Beverly Botsford and Jon Metzger.
Owen Cordle writing for Raleigh's News & Observer stated "If there were a Grammy award for best Christmas album, the Nnenna Freelon-John Brown Big Band collaboration simply titled “Christmas” would surely be a top contender."
Listen to Phoebe Judge's conversation with John Brown: