By David L. Meister . . .

The Andersons – Peter and Will – returned to Symphony Space, December 18th, for two performances of A Jazzy Christmas, which pleased a full house.  The twins performed a two-hour set of mostly traditional, non-sectarian, seasonal numbers, eschewing some pop tunes that might have been expected (sorry, Rudolph, too bad Frosty). 

Expected favorites included up-tempo versions of “Jingle Bells,” “Sleigh Ride” and “Winter Wonderland.”  These showcased the familiar talents of the twin reed players, as well as the skills of their back up bassist, pianist, and percussionist.  “White Christmas” was appropriately soulful, while “O, Christmas Tree” was noteworthy for the departure of the leads, leaving the spotlight to Dalton Ridenhour on piano, Neal Miner on bass, and drummer Chuck Redd, doubling on vibes.

Unexpectedly, however, they showcased two numbers from A Charlie Brown Christmas, along with video from the show, and interviews of Charles Schulze, including elucidating the choice of a jazz score for a children’s cartoon.  The use of historical clips has always been a unique feature of The Andersons shows, and again, was well-received by the audience.  Hearing Louis Armstrong recite The Night Before Christmas was an obscure pleasure, and its inclusion typifies the care the brothers take in preparing their act.  And Peter’s personable patter personifies the fun evening, with his self-deprecating charm. 

Vocalist Molly Ryan joined in on close to half the numbers, and was a fine addition.  She has an easy-going style, which suits the smooth arrangements the twins have favored.  But, The Andersons’ choice of these Christmas classics may have actually worked against them.  Will usually creates the arrangements, and they are a strength when showcasing swing era bands (Dorsey Brothers, for example).  He is able to capture the essence of well-known numbers, with a fraction of the instruments.  And, since those tunes are typically known by one version, and one version only, the modern versions are compared only to that earlier one.  But, so many of the Christmas songs they presented have been covered by multiple artists, with the result that their version is simply just another one.  “Let It Snow ” “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” are numbers they played—and well—but also numbers that have been recorded extensively.  The latter was introduced by Judy Garland, then covered by Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Ella Fitzgerald, with John Legend and Josh Groban having recent #1 hits, for example.

In the end, the audience was treated to the joys of Christmas.  Nostalgia came from the delights of songs we grew up with, and have shared with family and friends ever since.  Surprise came from Sugar Rum Cherry, and Linus and Lucy.  And feelings of pure happiness came throughout, like a holiday visit with the family, but without that annoying relative. 

And, if we didn’t actually see Mommy Kissing Santa Claus so far, or learn that Grandma Got Runover By a Reindeer yet, well, you better look out—Santa Claus is Coming to Town!