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Getting into the swing of things for Christmas

From traditional carols to tales of Santa’s return to town, music is a big part of the festive season. But live concerts were a no-go last time around; now, members of the Big Band Theory are eager to return to the stage next week for their popular Christmas shows.

The group will perform December 18 and 19 at Kitchener’s Registry Theatre, presenting its jazzy take on holiday classics. As with past Christmas concerts, the shows will also serve as a fundraiser for a local charity. This time around, it’s the Kids to Camp Fund.

“We haven’t been playing – it’s something that everybody misses because music is much about community and about sharing, sharing performances and sharing the arts,” said BBT music director Jim Edwards. “We’re starting to feel a little bit confident – the doors are starting to open again. We’re really looking forward to that.”

The concerts also help mark the Big Band Theory’s 10th anniversary. Formed in 2011 by local musicians, all of whom had an abiding affection for the big band format, the lineup boasts 14 horn and reed players, supported by a four-piece rhythm section, with Edwards and his trombone at the helm.

Band members have drawn on some of their own favourite musicians and tunes in coming up with a set list for next week’s shows.

“We’re presenting some really cool and different music – music from Stan Kenton’s orchestra, music From the Airmen of Note, which is the Air Force band that was formerly Glenn Miller’s orchestra,” said Edwards. Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band – we’re playing some of his stuff. And then of course we’ve got a number of great Christmas favourites presented with vocalist Nathan Martin”

As musical director, he’ll get to throw in a couple of his own faves.

“For me, that would probably be Santa Claus is coming to town, which is a vocal, and then we’re doing Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas as a tenor saxophone piece, which is featuring Ken Foster, an amazing saxophonist who is local here,” he said.

“The other thing I’ve mentioned is the two Airmen of Note songs. They’re a cute Little Drummer Boy boogie – imagine taking the Little Drummer Boy and they can get into a boogaloo, boogie woogie kind of song. And then a song called Jing, Jing, Jing – it’s what would happen if Jingle Bells met Sing, Sing, Sing. So a lot of fun. People should enjoy that.”

Whether an immediately familiar Christmas classic or a lesser-known gem, each song will have BBT’s distinctive jazzy sound.

“We made sure we had a mix of everything in there from Rudolph and the Jingle Bell Rock to the more jazzy versions of the tunes like Jingle Bells that we mentioned previously. So, yeah, lots of good stuff there.”

For the vocal numbers, the band will be joined by Nathan Martin, a Goderich native who studied jazz vocal performance at Humber College. With an extensive background in choral music, he’s toured North America and Europe with the Festival Youth Singers, and is a former vocalist with the Toronto All-Star Big Band.

“Nathan is also going to do a couple of couple of solos, which gets him in the rhythm section as well,” said Edwards. “He’s going to do Silver Bells and he’s going to do Christmas Time is Here, which many folks know from the Charlie Brown years.”

BBT is no stranger to the Registry Theatre. The group performed there with legendary Canadian jazz musician Don Thompson in a concert that was recorded for Big Band Theory’s debut album, Evidence. In 2018, BBT released their second CD, A Swingin’ Joy, also recorded during Christmas concerts at the Registry.

For their latest show, Big Band Theory takes to the Registry stage for two performances Dec. 18 (8 p.m.) and Dec. 19 (3 p.m.). Tickets are $25, available by calling 519-578-1570 or online.

“It’s gonna be a swinging Christmas – big band fun, and lots and lots of energy,” said Edwards. “The ballads will hopefully bring a tear to someone’s eye, but the majority of this is going to be high-energy swinging, really-enjoy-the-show kind of moments.”

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