This Wednesday, Christmas comes early to Ottawa – or at least its jazzy soundtrack!

Vocalist Jozée Devoua, pianist and arranger J.P. Allain, and bassist and engineer Normand Glaude will be premiering their new Christmas CD, Jazz Winterlude, at the NAC Fourth Stage.

Just a bit early for the actual holiday, you might wonder? Glaude said they wanted to ensure they introduced the CD early enough to get it to possible buyers. And, in fact, he said, once Hallowe'en was over, ticket sales really picked up. “There definitely are some die-hard fans out there of Christmas that want to get into the mood early.”

The album was inspired by all the great jazz music which is also Christmas music. “Christmas is a fun time of year. There is a lot of Christmas music out there that people like to rejuvenate every year, and add new music to their portfolio. And quite honestly, I think that there are some really nice jazz standards that are great Christmas tunes.”

Devoua and Allain picked the music carefully, Glaude said, to avoid it sounding overdone. “There are some standards that people really expect to see, so we had to put a few of them in. J.P. worked extra-hard to come up with some really unique arrangements that make them still fresh. So we have a balance of a number of those overdone tunes but with a very unique fresh twist, but we also wanted to put on a number of tunes that are played much less often.”

Jozée Devoua ©Brett Delmage, 2008
Jozée Devoua ©Brett Delmage, 2008

“Santa Claus is coming to town”, for example, gets a upbeat treatment, with Devoua singing verses often left out, and with some extra drum and piano interludes around the famous chorus.

The less-often-played-at-Christmas tunes include “I've got my love to keep me warm”, and a French tune: “Le père Noël a pris un coup”. “We Three Kings”, a old carol “that we don't hear being played all that often”, shows up in a jazz version. They also included several tunes popularized by Holly Cole, including Cool Yule and Christmas Blues, but less often performed by other singers.

Devoua made a point of preparing different interpretations of each song, Glaude said, with a number of different phrasings ready for each tune. “Jozée and I worked really hard in the studio to come up with unique phrasings and unique note choices throughout the recording without deviating too far away from the melody.”

The last time the three worked on an album was for Devoua's Low Key, released in 2007. She was itching to do a new CD, Glaude said, and approached him and Allain to work as a team on it. They chose the tunes in late spring, Allain wrote the arrangements over the summer, they rehearsed over the summer, and they recorded the vast majority of the music in August and September.

And how did they keep in the Christmas spirit?

“When you listen to the album, you'll realize that it's as much a jazz album as it is a Christmas album. So from that perspective it wasn't very difficult to stay in the Christmas spirit because it was really about playing some great jazz.”

    – Alayne McGregor

See also: 4th Stage gets "Extreme Makeover" on Thursday - Jazz versions of pop hits