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Saskatoon Jazz Orchesta to play Strayhorn's Nutcracker on Dec. 16th at the Broadway Theatre

by Scott Roos

photos by Deanna Roos

The SJO pictured here during their April 29th "Pictures at an Exhibition Reimagined" concert (photo by Deanna Roos)


On Saturday, December 16th, on the hallowed Broadway Theatre grounds, the Saskatoon Jazz Orchestra (SJO) will play a family friendly, holiday themed concert they’ve entitled “My Favourite Things, The Nutcracker Suite & More”. It will be a concert in two parts featuring the group performing some holiday classics, a special performance of a Fred Stride commissioned arrangement of jazz standard “My Favourite Things”, as well as a few tunes featuring local vocalist Tatrina Tai. The second half will feature the band playing the Billy Strayhorn famed swing arrangement of “The Nutcracker Suite” that was originally penned for the Duke Ellington band. The Saskatoon Youth Jazz Orchestra has also prepared a short set of tunes.


“We've got some really good players in town and everyone has a blast doing this. It's really fun music and yeah it'll be a swinging good time. Some of our concerts are a little more on the heady side…. Our December holiday concert is a very family friendly concert. Even if people don't like jazz or big bands, if they come (to our holiday concert) they usually have a great time,” SJO artistic director Dean McNeill told NSMZ in a recent telephone conversation.


Incidentally, the classic Duke Ellington recording of The Nutcracker is full of the hard swing that the group was known for. There's eccentric rhythmic patterns and an eclectic scoring of woodwinds in several of the piece's sections. After a cursory listen, it should be obvious to most jazz afficianados that the piece is a tremendous undertaking but the SJO is certainly up to the task.


Trombonist Brad Shigeta whose many accomplishments include playing with the Ellington band for 19 years, will be sitting in with the SJO on this night to lend a hand which should give the performance of the Nutcracker a sense of authenticity. Although McNeill fully realizes that authenticity is not the be all and end all. Inevitably, there will be some variance in interpretation.


“We're not trying to be like Elvis impersonators, you know what I mean? We're not trying to play exactly like them,” McNeill stated, “They recorded this music in the 60's. This is 2023. A lot of stuff has happened in the world. Music has moved on so there will be some modern influences but we'll be playing the same tempos, the same grooves, the same arrangements and trying to stay as authentic to it as possible.”


“Some of our concerts are visionary or forward looking,” McNeill continued, “Some of them are more of an archival, breathing life back into these classic works. So this would be the latter. Ellington already did a retake on the Nutcracker so we're not going to be doing a retake on the retake.”


Collectively, the SJO has had a great year chock full of quality programming. The band’s reverent take on the Strayhorn/Ellington version of The Nutcracker will be no exception and it goes without saying that Tatrina Tai will be in fine form. It’s going to be an evening of quality entertainment to be certain. Tickets can still be found HERE. Get ‘em while you still can. On a side note, the SJO has been chosen as NSMZ's "Duo, Group or Ensemble of the Year". A more formal post about this award will go live on our website in the next few weeks.


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