Have Yourself A Jazzy Little Christmas with The John Dapaah Trio,
with Michael Curtis Hanna and Roxanne Goodman
Doors Open for Music at Southminster
Southminster United Church
Wednesday, December 20, 2017 – 12 noon

We all joke about Christmas music and how there's too much of it at this time of year – but that's partly because it's important to us. At home, at school, at church, on the radio, with our friends, we all grew up with these songs and carols, and that tradition evokes strong emotions in us.

Ottawa pianist John Dapaah stayed true to the tradition in his pre-Christmas concert at Southminster – but gave it extra zest with his interpretations. Performing with his long-time jazz trio of J.P. Lapensée on electric bass and Jamie Holmes on drums, he enlivened the show with two local singers with strong jazz and gospel roots: Roxanne Goodman and Michael Curtis Hanna.

Performing before a nearly-full church, the musicians were dressed up for the occasion: the men in suits, Dapaah wearing a bright red bow tie, and Goodman in a glamorous black dress and a glittering necklace. They spent equal care on the music.

The trio opened with an instrumental version of the classic A Charlie Brown Christmas theme, “Christmas time is here”, with Dapaah's inviting piano outlining the melody. Goodman and Hanna entered partway through, their voices joining in warmly and expressively.

That warm vibe extended throughout the show, in Hanna's sincere and forthright “Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and his simple, gospel-infused opening to “The First Noël”, and Goodman's melodic and conversational rendition of “O Holy Night”.

I've heard some all-too syrupy versions of “The Christmas Song” this month, and it was such a pleasure to hear this version. Hanna's rounded vocals retained the nostalgic imagery while avoiding the saccharine, while Dapaah's ornamented and varied piano stylings and Lapensée's melodic bass lines added an interesting percussive counterpoint.

Goodman's arrangement of “Silent Night” was particularly notable. It's a song whose repeated lines can quickly become banal; this version was revived with a strong syncopated introduction and jazzy vocals. She sang the lyrics with verve and swing, holding and twisting notes, in a duet with Dapaah's bluesy stride piano. It was a show-stopper of a song, and deservedly received very strong applause from the audience.

“Do You Hear What I Hear” opened with a sizzling beat and featured quick-paced gospel-style vocals, while “Joy to the World” was given a dramatic and Latin feel – with occasional quotes from Ravel's “Bolero”. Dapaah's career has encompassed both classical and jazz music, and was interesting to hear him refer to both in this context.

The show closed with a heartfelt version of Donny Hathaway's “This Christmas”, with Hanna's confessional, R&B-style vocals over upbeat piano, bass and drums. With Goodman joining in on the choruses, it built up to a compelling climax of “Merry Christmas, everyone!”

The audience responded with a standing ovation – and the musicians responded to this enthusiasm with an upbeat version of “Jingle Bells”, with Goodman and Hanna emphasizing the rhythm in their scatting and the instrumentalists letting loose in fast, joyous solos. The tune sent everyone out into the winter landscape with a dancing, happy feel.

Set List

  • Christmas time is here (Lee Mendelson / Vince Guaraldi)
  • Have yourself a Merry Christmas (Hugh Martin / Ralph Blane)
  • The Christmas song (Chestnuts) (Bob Wells / Mel Tormé)
  • O Holy Night (Adolphe Adam / Placide Cappeau)
  • Silent Night (Franz Gruber / Joseph Mohr)
  • The First Nöel (William Sandys)
  • Joy to the World (Isaac Watts)
  • Do you hear what I hear (Gloria Shayne Baker)
  • This Christmas (Donny Hathaway)
  • Encore: Jingle Bells