“This orchestra of Knoxville, TN has transformed its city into a Jazz Mecca.”
Vibrations.com, Paris, France
"The Knoxville Jazz Orchestra's new Christmas CD rocks some serious socks! Do yourself and the KJO a favor and buy a copy today!" -Kady Robbins
"Listen people, I don't care if you're from Knoxville or not! This is one of the best Christmas albums I've ever heard! Buy yourself a copy now!" -Frank Zimmerer, Tallahassee, FL
"I just received your Christmas CD and have listened to it twice. It’s absolutely WONDERFUL. A fine, fine, performance." -Bob Berry
4 stars: "Listeners who enjoy modern big bands will find much to savor during these flawless performances.”
Scott Yanow, All Music Guide writing about the KJO’s 2007 release, Blues Man from Memphis:
"The band is wonderful. A lot of bands don't have that kind of depth and maturity. Those are players who work as one and they sound like the greatest Benny Goodman band. I can't say enough good about them."
Jazz piano great Hank Jones
The Knoxville Jazz Orchestra, an exceptional group featuring 17 of East Tennessee's top professional musicians, releases CHRISTMAS TIME IS HERE just in time for the holidays. The CD covers a lot of stylistic territory, with twelve original arrangements built around this world-class modern big band. The disc features cameo appearances by two different choirs, a mesmerizing guest vocalist named Jill Andrews, plus star soloists Gregory Tardy (tenor saxophone), Tim Green (alto saxophone), and Dan Trudell (Hammond B-3). The CD will be released on Tuesday, November 1st on the Shade Street Records label.
Vance Thompson, the group’s founder and director, penned all of the arrangements for the project. “We’ve been doing an annual Christmas concert since 2004, and each year I’ve written a few new arrangements to keep things interesting. When I realized that I was closing in on twenty original Christmas arrangements, I knew it was time to choose my favorites and record.”
The result is a diverse program of holiday classics, performed with surprisingly fresh treatments. Some of the charts include obvious references to modern jazz classics. Take for example “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” which includes nods to McCoy Tyner’s trio arrangement of “Old Devil Moon” as well as John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme;” or Thompson’s treatment of “Deck the Halls,” which borrows Cedar Walton’s bass vamp from his composition “Bolivia.”
Other highlights include a samba version of “Jingle Bells,” complete with adventurous harmonies and blistering solos by Tardy and Green; a Clayton-esque arrangement of “Let it Snow” featuring the KJO trombone section; a blues-drenched shuffle on “Silent Night” featuring Trudell and Green; and a romping, stomping chart on “Go Tell it On the Mountain” featuring the Hammond B-3 at full tilt. - 2 -
Organist Trudell is also featured on a stunning arrangement of “Do You Hear What I Hear” where the saxophone section is replaced by four French horns and tuba. Timpani and chimes are thrown in for good measure. The combination sounds like something Oliver Nelson and Larry Young might have come up with had the two ever collaborated.
On “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” vocalist Jill Andrews joins the band for a subtle ballad rendition filled with lush harmonies, beautiful woodwinds and an unexpected bossa nova solo section. “I’d been looking for a vocalist who could provide us with a sense of place,” says Thompson. “When I heard Jill sing, I knew she was the one. She has a gorgeous voice and really knows how to capture a mood. She also sounds like she’s from East Tennessee, and I felt that was an important statement to make. We’re not a New York band, after all.”
Thompson’s arrangement of the spiritual “Children Go Where I Send Thee,” is the most epic work on the CD. The idea came from Chris Potter’s quartet arrangement of the tune on his CD Traveling Mercies.
“Chris’ approach to the tune is so hip, and it was easy to orchestrate it into something very exciting for big band,” says Thompson. “The problem is that the song is not familiar to most people. To perform it live at our Christmas concert, we needed a vocal introduction so that everyone would know that it was a Christmas tune.”
“I chose to do an A cappella choral introduction in four part harmony. The choir from Church Street United Methodist in Knoxville performs it beautifully in a ‘high church’ kind of style. When the band comes in with Potter’s funky treatment, it’s quite a contrast, and that’s what led to the idea to close the arrangement with another choral section, this time in a Gospel style accompanied by the full big band. Since the singing style is so different, we used a second local choir from the Community Evangelistic Presbyterian Church.”
The Knoxville Jazz Orchestra’s regular membership includes University of Tennessee jazz faculty members such as Thompson, drummer Keith Brown, bassist Rusty Holloway and internationally recognized saxophonist Gregory Tardy, who moved to Knoxville in 2010 to become the University’s jazz saxophone professor. Despite strong ties to the University, the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra is its own entity, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization with an independent board of directors comprised of local leaders who are passionate about jazz.
The organization supports several programs including an annual six concert series featuring world renowned guest artists with the full big band; a small group series with performances from noon to 1pm on the first Wednesday of each month in the heart of Knoxville’s downtown business community; an honors big band for high school students that is populated by the most promising young jazz musicians from across East Tennessee; and a series of free in-school performances at area elementary, middle and high schools.