Corrections or additions?
This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the November 28,
2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
The Nativity Story in Jazz
If you are a lover of jazz, or just a plain lover of
a good time, you may want to spend the afternoon of Sunday, December
2, celebrating the beginning of the holiday season with some of the
greatest jazz entertainers of our day. The celebration is the
New Jersey premiere of "A Jazz Nativity" at Patriots Theater
at the War Memorial in Trenton. Unlike many big Christmastime
you can become a part of this very special Christmas entertainment
that has, for the past 15 years, become a family holiday tradition
in New York City and in other cities across the country.
It happened that a family friend who lives in South Carolina was
us during the holiday season a couple of years back. His last-minute
request for help getting seats for any big hit Broadway musical came
to naught, so I suggested he accompany me to my job — to review
"A Jazz Nativity" at the Lambs Theater. At the end of the
show, he turned to me (as the entire audience stood and cheered around
us), and said, "Wow, thanks. This is one of the best shows I’ve
In my review of that show I wrote that "`A Jazz Nativity’ is a
touching and terrific musical show, joyous in its message, and
in its outpouring of talent." Written and composed by Anne
the show is produced by the Kindred Spirits Foundation, a non-profit
organization that sponsors multi-cultural jazz and musical theater,
Children’s Jazz Choirs, arts events for underprivileged children,
and various projects to foster intercultural experience.
With its uplifting infusion of jazz, traditional, and original musical
support, "A Jazz Nativity" has become renowned for its ongoing
invitation to the greatest solo jazz artists and groups to help tell
its story. This year, the Absalom Jones Inspirational Choir of Trinity
Cathedral in Trenton and an area a cappella group, Jersey Transit,
join the New York Voices vocal quartet, and soloist Jimmy Randolph,
in vocal music.
You will find reverence takes on a whimsical tone as appropriately
garbed shepherds appear awestruck by the proclamations of this year’s
archangel, portrayed by Trinity Cathedral Choir conductor Deborah
Ford. These shepherds also get to enjoy the saxophone solo performed
by one of their own, shepherd Jon Gordon, winner of the Thelonious
Monk Competition. Elvie Williams from the Newark Boys Chorus School
plays a shepherd boy. He will give his soprano voice a workout singing
the sweet title ballad "Bending Toward The Light."
"A blonde Edith Piaf with swing and sunshine in her voice"
is the way the New York Times describes jazz singer Karrin Allyson,
who plays Mary. Although she will be confined for a while to the
the Concord recording star is not expected to hold put any constraints
on her blues rendition of "Softly Falls the Gentle Night."
If you think you know the Nativity story, wait until you see what
unexpected gifts the Three Kings bring, as played by the dazzlingly
costumed Jon Hendricks (scat singer) old-timer Jimmy Slyde (tap-dancer
extraordinaire), and a surprise royal have to offer baby Jesus. This
trio’s collective magic has the potential to raise the roof of any
stable. Let’s see what they do to the roof of the Patriots Theater.
You couldn’t ask for two more adoring guardian angels than the
husband and wife cabaret team, Jackie Cain and Roy Kral. Appearing
together in the big leagues since 1948, they are slated to sing the
lovely song, "What Child Is This." Jamie Dee, of American
Repertory Ballet Company in New Brunswick, will portray the Spirit
of Mary in dance throughout the show.
Needless to say, the entertainment builds in intensity
as the story progresses, becoming a veritable jazz jamboree.
percussionist Candido ("Thousand Finger Man," "Dancin’
and Prancin’," "Jingo"), a royal in his own right who
has been known as King of Disco Jazz for the past 40 years, is
So is the self-taught jazz legend trombonist Slide Hampton, about
whom critic Stanley Crouch has written, "a virtuoso melodist with
blues-tinged fire, immaculate intonation and writing skills reflected
in the continuity, variety and drama of his improvisations."
Also set to pay a visit to the Bethlehem manger is trumpeter Clark
Terry. Considered one of contemporary music’s great innovators, Terry
is also justly celebrated for his great technical virtuosity, swinging
lyricism, and impeccable good taste. Latin percussionist Bobby
a leader in the Afro-Cuban and jazz fields as both a drummer and a
percussionist, recognized as one of the most articulate scholars of
"la tradicion," together with Philadelphia’s ("Philly’s
jazz giant") saxophonist Larry McKenna, have also been assigned
to shake the walls of Bethlehem with the best jazz this side of
Tad and Beth Jones are the co-directing team for "Jazz
Composer Phillips’ husband, the tenor-saxophonist Bob Kindred, is
the show’s musical director, with Phillips conducting the all-star
stage band. Kindred is also featured in the show that has a
set and lighting designed by Philip Widmer. Whether or not there’s
snow on the ground in Trenton, this Nativity story promises to raise
the capital city’s temperature to a warm glow.
— Simon Saltzman
Theater at the War Memorial , Trenton, 609-984-8400. $20, $35, &
$45. To charge tickets call 800-955-5566 or order at
Sunday, December 2, 5 p.m.
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