We take the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra, who played their annual Christmas show at the Tennessee Theatre Tuesday night, for granted, but National Public Radio just named KJO’s Christmas Time Is Here one of five recommended jazz Christmas albums of the year.
An obvious labor of love, the album, available on knoxjazz.org, includes the gorgeous Vince Guaraldi title track, and several American Songbook classics like “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” plus some traditional songs like “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Deck the Halls,” and even Tchaikovsky’s “Russian Dance.” It’s dedicated to the memory of saxophonist Bill Scarlett, the stalwart jazzman who died not long ago.
The NPR review, by Patrick Jarenwattananon, a young music critic and author of A Blog Supreme, specifically calls out saxophonist Greg Tardy and trumpeter Vance Thompson, two virtuosos who’d be welcome in any jazz club in any city, and who teamed up to offer free weekly shows on Market Square this past summer.
“Where can you find jazz in Knoxville, Tenn.? You might start at the University of Tennessee, which employs folks like world-beating saxophonist Gregory Tardy and the leader of the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra, trumpeter and arranger Vance Thompson. For its holiday record, the big band welcomes guests like alto saxophonist Tim Green (who takes a solo here) and Hammond B-3 specialist Dan Trudell. Thompson also put together traditionally brassy and bold charts of Christmas classics, with a few dashes of spicy something-else. This version of the spiritual ‘Children Go’ was inspired by Chris Potter’s quartet arrangement, and features two different choirs from two different churches.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story named the wrong venue for KJO's recent Christmas concert. It was held at the Tennessee Theatre, not the Bijou.